Barras: Casinos, slots and Internet gambling redux?

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Local,DC,Jonetta Rose Barras

"It's totally beyond me why [Jack Evans] is doing this," civic leader Marie Drissel told me last week during a discussion about the Ward 2 D.C. councilman's proposal to study casinos, slots and Internet gambling in the District.

Only seven months ago, Evans' Committee on Finance and Revenue and the full council repealed the Lottery Modernization Amendment Act of 2010. That deceptively titled measure legalized iGaming in the city.

The repeal followed a citizens' revolt led by Drissel. She and others argued Internet gambling had been approved without a formal public hearing. She also published government emails exposing how at-large Councilman Michael A. Brown -- working behind closed doors with gambling industry executives and Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi -- had legislation slipped into the Budget Support Act. Many council members confessed to not realizing they had voted for the measure.

Now, in a 360-degree maneuver, Evans has teamed with Councilman Marion Barry, a gambling proponent, to breathe new life into the issue.

The former mayor may be carrying water for Brown and the gambling industry. But whose water is Evans hauling?

"He wants Ward 8 votes, if he runs for mayor," hypothesized Drissel.

"That's absurd," Evans told me, adding he is not carrying anyone's water nor is he advocating any form of gambling.

He said during a conversation at the Democratic convention that Barry asserted the city is losing revenues as surrounding states become more involved with gambling. "I am just trying to figure out what is the financial impact when all the jurisdictions -- Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware -- have gone full tilt for gambling, acting like Las Vegas."

"There's got to be an impact on the District," Evans added.

It's unclear who will conduct the study or how much it may cost. But Drissel worried such decisions will be "completely and totally behind closed doors because Gandhi thinks he is independent of everything."

"No state would attempt this without a very large public process," she added.

Evans certainly has reopened a Pandora's box: Internet gambling became entangled in the city's 2009 lottery contracting, which Inspector General Charles Willoughby found fraught with irregularities and questionable behaviors. In his report, he noted Brown had withheld information about his law firm's relationship with the gaming industry. The IG also said Gandhi overstepped his authority and violated District procurement laws.

During a previous lottery procurement, Councilman Jim Graham told one bidder he would support his contract, if that bidder relinquished an unrelated Metro project, according to an attorney involved in the case. Metro launched an independent investigation earlier this year into those allegations.

As part of his sweeping probe into District government corruption, U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen Jr. has been reviewing the entire lottery contracting mess, including whether any bribery was involved.

So, citizens remain bitter over the last attempt to bring gambling to the nation's capital. There also are multiple ongoing investigations.

Surely Evans -- a savvy politician -- could not have forgotten those facts. Maybe he was suffering from too much rum punch.

Jonetta Rose Barras' column appears on Tuesday and Friday. She can be reached at jonetta@jonettarosebarras.com.

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