This morning, the D.C. Council's Finance and Revenue Committee, led by Councilman Jack Evans, had a hearing on the District's plan to offer online gaming later this year. The authorization of said gaming became law some time back, but since it was passed as a provision from Councilman Michael Brown in a budget bill that Evans apparently never bothered to read, and is set to go online in just a couple of months, he now finds himself having to rush in order to kill it before it's too late. And rest assured, that was the point of today's hearing.
As I wrote a few weeks ago, this is a subject of particular interest to me. Had I known about the hearing before today, I would have taken the day off work and gone. As it stood, I had to settle for watching the live stream.
Well, trying to watch the live stream, in any case. This became a frequent occurrence:
My office has a T1 line, so I know the problem wasn't on my end. It's great that D.C. offers live streams of hearings, and to the government's credit, the video of the hearing was posted extremely quickly, but the buffering issues during the hearing were unbearable. Maybe once that online poker revenue starts pouring in, they can spring for better computer equipment.
The hearing lasted over four hours. I lost interest way before that, but here are some of the more interesting moments from the first half or so, along with where in the video they occur.
00:01 -- Evans begins the hearing by going over the parameters of the bill. The three biggest points: 1) Players will only be able to access the system from between 10 a.m. to 4.a.m., presumably to keep the real degenerates from losing all their money, 2) Players will only be able to access the system from approved hot spots inside the city, as opposed to their homes, and 3) Players will only be able to deposit $250 a week.
Immediate reaction from the online poker community to these has been less than kind (especially that last one), but for what it's worth, I'm fine with all of them.
07:30 -- Evans reminds us that even though online gaming has already been passed (however unknowingly) by the council, it can also be unpassed. Okay, Jack, we get it. Your dick is as big as Brown's.
17:15 -- D.C. CFO Natwar Gandhi reads the list of what games will be available online: Blackjack and Victory at Sea (yeah, I don't know what that is, either) at first, followed by poker, bingo, e-scratch (I'm assuming that's an online version of scratch-off lottery tickets, which...wow, how lame do you have to be to play those?), and "random number generated games," which I take to mean online keno or slots. I think they'd be better off sticking with just poker, blackjack and bingo, but whatever.
39:40 -- Evans seems to suggest to Gandhi that since the council might decide to unpass the online gaming legislation down the road, wouldn't it be swell if they could just agree to drop the whole thing now before any more money is spent? Gandhi suggests this is something Evans and the council perhaps should have considered before they voted for it. Burn.
(And ultimately, this is Evans's biggest problem. He can complain about how online gaming in D.C. came into being, and to be fair, it's not a wholly invalid point. But the bottom line is that Evans and the rest of the council voted for it. So now he gets to live with it.)
1:01 -- Evans is relieved to hear that D.C. libraries can be blocked from accessing the gaming site. Next issue: Suppose two businesses, X and Y, each want to license an authorized hot spot for online gaming. Isn't there a danger of X bribing someone in government to ensure it gets one and Y doesn't? A confused does his best to pretend this is somehow a valid concern, and reassures Evans they'll keep an eye out for that sort of thing.
1:26 -- Councilman Tommy Wells asks Attorney General Irv Nathan about how the placement of gaming hot spots will be legislated and/or regulated. Nathan responds that formal legislation likely won't be necessary, and essentially says that basic common sense should be sufficient. Wells wants to know what will happen if a hot spot somehow ends up in a school. Or the basement of the Wilson Building. Rather than explain the definition of common sense, Nathan simply assures him that schools and the basement of the building they're currently sitting in would almost certainly not be granted gaming licences.
1:35 -- After Evans goes off on a tangent about how the city taking money from poor people via online gaming is wrong or something, Gandhi points out D.C., with its roughly 1,000,001 different forms of lotteries, crossed that Rubicon a long time ago. Evans acknowledges the point, but then seems to imply that if it were up to him, there would be no D.C. lottery. Yeah, good luck running for mayor with that as your platform, Jack. Seniors in D.C. love lottery tickets like teenager girls love Bieber.
1:52 -- In a surprise cameo, Patrick Thibodeau of DC Blogs pops up to speak out against the implementation of online gaming in D.C. Suffice it to say that I disagree with him on this, and when he brought up the issue a few weeks ago on his site, I posted a response to his concerns. You can check it out here, if you want.
Anyway, that's about when I bailed. So let me just close with this: It's fairly obvious that Evans and Wells would like to kill online gambling in D.C. Or in the very least, keep delaying its implementation indefinitely. They shouldn't. Aside from providing much needed revenue to the city, there's a basic question of personal freedom. There's no reason why Americans shouldn't be allowed to play poker online, and that freedom trumps concerns about exploiting the poor or those with gambling problems. As Gandhi points out, D.C. embraced gambling a long, long time ago. The difference is, poker--and even blackjack or bingo or whatever the hell Victory at Sea is--actually gives the player a chance to win. Scratchers don't. Lotto drawings don't. So if we're not going to do away with the whole lottery apparatus in the interest of protecting potential problem gamblers, the very least we can do is give them fighting odds.