District of Columbia’s online gambling rollout may face delay

DC-online-gambling-rollout-delayPlans for a Sept. 8 rollout of the District of Columbia’s intrastate online gambling operation may have hit a snag. Following Wednesday’s public hearing on the issue, at which some Council members expressed concern at the speed with which DC Lottery’s plans were progressing, lottery officials now plan to set up meetings across the city for further consultation with the public. Much of this consultation will revolve around plans to set up WiFi-enabled “hot spots” throughout the city of Washington, from which District residents will be able to access the gambling system.

The initial plan is to set up these ‘hot spots’ in public buildings and commercial locations like hotels and bars, but confusion surrounding their precise makeup and location has led to accusations that DC Lottery wants to set up ‘betting parlors’ across the city. Calling these concerns “an umbrella of misunderstanding,” DC Lottery executive director Buddy Roogow said these hot spots would simply be “an Internet connection for a specific location to offer Internet service, and on that internet service would be igamingdc.com.”

Still, the mention of ‘public buildings’ has the ‘won’t someone think of the children’ crowd raising the spectre of District libraries suddenly becoming overrun by degenerate poker players. Roogow maintains that “hot spots will not be approved until all input from the community has been received and evaluated … Can possibly some of that be accomplished before September 8th? Maybe for a few locations. It’s probably an uphill task.”

Another aspect of DC’s plan that could prove an uphill slog is their decision to offer a product that goes beyond online poker. Poker is considered the thin end of the online gambling wedge, as it (allegedly) involves a greater degree of skill than some other forms of gambling, and thus is considered less politically controversial than say, slot machines. But slots are scheduled to be an integral part of igamingdc.com, even if Roogow claims they “do not meet the legal definition of slot machines.” Tomato, tomahto…

DC Attorney General Irvin Nathan may have told the Council that the District’s plans do not fall afoul of federal law, but all DC’s laws remain essentially subordinate to the whims of federal politicians, many of whom remain unconvinced that any form of online gambling is okay. On Friday, DC Mayor Vincent Gray told a local radio host that Congress had been given plenty of time to express an opinion on the District’s plans, but had yet to say anything one way or the other. Unfortunately, this is one scenario in which the maxim of ‘silence = consent’ doesn’t apply. With (at least) two months to go before DC plans to take its first real-money action, there’s still plenty of time for the feds to put DC’s hot spots into a deep freeze.