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D.C. Council Approves Online Poker Amendment

Dec 8, 2010
Author: Michael Mancini
D.C. Council Approves Online Poker Amendment

The Washington, D.C. Council voted 11-2 on Tuesday in favor of a budget amendment legalizing online poker and fantasy sports gambling. The law would organize these gambling programs through the existing D.C. Lottery, with the hopes of opening new revenue streams that might be able to close the current budget gap in the state.

However, some members of Congress are not certain that the proposal will actually become law. According to The Washington Times, Representative Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) – who is the ranking republican on the oversight subcommittee that deals with the District of Columbia – is “absolutely, totally opposed” to the city offering online gambling.

Because Washington, D.C. is a federal enclave, Congress ultimately has approval over all of the city’s laws. Given the chilly climate for online gambling in Congress, there may be strong opposition to such a law in the legislature – particularly after Republicans take a majority of seats in the House of Representatives in January.

Chaffetz also expressed disappointment in how the budget amendment was passed, as it was done with very little fanfare leading up to the vote.

"There is no foundation that has been laid to gain any broad support," Chaffetz said. "It was slipped into a budget discussion in the middle of the night. That doesn't strike me as a good way to do business."

Others are also opposed to the move. D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles has said that he’s not certain having a mix of skill and luck based games under the lottery’s control would hold up to federal law. And the US Attorney General, Eric Holder, has previously made statements opposing the expansion and legalization of online gambling.

According to city council member Michael Brown, a financial impact statement shows that adding online poker to D.C. could generate about $13 million in the first three years. While the amount is large, it would not be enough to significantly close the city’s budget gap, which stands at around $200 million.

This legislation comes at a time when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) is considering attaching online poker legislation to a bill in the current lame duck session of Congress. How (or if) this D.C. budget amendment will impact the politics around that bill remains to be seen.

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