02/02/2012 : REPEAL OF WASHINGTON DC LEGALISATION BILL APPEARS LIKELY
Council Finance and Revenue Committee progresses proposed repeal of online gambling legalization act.
With political opinion increasingly swinging to the negative on concerns over the way in which it was presented to lawmakers, it appears likely that Washington DC's thirteen-month-old law legalising online gambling is headed for repeal.
In a meeting of the Finance and Revenue Committee Wednesday, councillors voted 3 to 2 to progress a bill seeking the repeal of the act to a full council for further consideration.
Local media reports suggest that nine out of the 12 members of the full council are likely to vote for the repeal proposal, at least some of them because the issue has become so contentious due to alleged contract amendment irregularities.
Denise Tolliver, chief of staff for Councilman Phil Mendelson, a sponsor of the bill, told Washington media reporters that the full 12-member council will hold the first of two votes on repeal next Tuesday (Feb. 7).
"They may start over. I don't think they are that far yet," Tolliver said.
One campaigner against the legalization law commented to reporters: “I feel like this Ferrari hit a brick wall at 200 miles per hour.”
Council member Tommy Wells, a Ward 6 Democrat, spearheaded a repeal bill in response to complaints about the contracting process and the lack of public hearings on the program before it became law.
He and several colleagues claimed they could not have known they were voting for online gambling when they signed off on the city’s lottery contract with Greek vendor Intralot in December 2009.
The dispute has become increasingly bitter and ridden with political infighting, although pubic briefing exercises subsequently carried out by the DC Lottery showed that there was little public opposition to a project to make regulated online gambling available to Washington DC residents.
The inspector general for the council said in a report that the office of the chief financial officer “materially changed” the lottery contract after council approval, amending it without authority to specify and include an online gambling program in place of a more general description.
And he said all bidders for the lottery contract should have competed for the contract with explicit proposals on wagered games over the Web.
The inspector general's report, issued in advance of Wednesday’s vote, alarmed council members – some of whom said they did not necessarily object to online gambling in principle but did object to the process by which it became law.
Others were concerned at public perceptions of councillors, especially at a sensitive time following the resignation of one councillor ahead of a guilty plea for stealing public funds in a separate issue.
One prominent supporter of the legalization law, Mayor Vincent Gray, caused a stir when his spokesman indicated that he had undergone a change of mind and now supported the repeal of the act.
Independent Councillor Michael A. Brown, who managed the legalization bill through the council, voted against any repeal, and said that he will try to gather the six votes needed to preserve the law when it comes before the full council.
D.C. Lottery Director Buddy Roogow said the lottery is a government agency that will do the council’s bidding, and that lottery contractor Intralot will have to absorb the costs of i-gaming’s false start.
Further complications may lie ahead for the controversially amended lottery contract which is at the centre of the dispute, with the main opponent to legalization, council member Jack Evans suggesting Wednesday that his work is not complete and that further oversight of the contract is imminent.
A repeal vote next Tuesday may also signal further political argument, with councillor Brown threatening to launch a stand-alone bill to legalise online gambling in the District.
“Other states are now [legalising],” Brown said Wednesday. “And frankly they are laughing at our procedure now, moving backwards when we were out front.”
Byron Boothe, Intralot's vice president for government affairs, said Washington DC "….was really leading the [online gambling] charge and obviously they dropped the baton."
He opined that it would be difficult for the District to revive the initiative since Congressional sentiment has swung against state or local government oversight in favour of federal regulation.