Tom Sherwood’s Notebook: 07/07/11

By Tom Sherwood
|  Thursday, Jul 7, 2011  |  Updated 3:15 PM EDT
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Online Gambling Could Be Delayed in D.C.

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Online Gambling Could Be Delayed in D.C.

A bold plan to offer online poker and other gambling in the District this September ran into trouble today.
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We wrote last winter about the District’s little-known plan to begin online gambling.

And we were surprised at the lack of public opposition.

Well, it finally showed up last week.

Boy, did it.

There was so much confusion and consternation that the D.C. Lottery is being forced to delay its planned Sept. 8 start of online poker and other games that resemble slots.

“This whole thing stinks,” said civic activist Dorothy Brizill.

“You know, this is such a fairy tale” of potential corruption and civic ruin, said Marie Drissel, another activist.

One by one, D.C. Council members went into the hearing on the subject and expressed surprise at the absence of detail.

What businesses would be allowed to open up online gaming parlors? How would they be policed? Would the advisory neighborhood commissions have a say? How many computers could any one place have? And on and on.

“If you’re going to have [online gaming at bars and restaurants], that’s a significant change to the license,” said Andy Litsky, an advisory neighborhood commissioner from near Southwest.

Drissel, who began mobilizing against the online plan after hearing about it on television, was incensed -- as were many others -- that no public hearings had been held.

At-large D.C. Council member Michael Brown and then-Council Chairman Vincent Gray added the online provision to the city budget with little if any public notice, and certainly not a public hearing. Neither has explained clearly why such a major change in law didn’t get even the minimum public vetting.

Last week Brown was buffeted by criticism over the secrecy. He twice objected to suggestions the measure was “snuck” into the budget bill. He said it had been discussed at an “administrative” meeting of the council.

But almost everyone else believes the public was given the slip.

“I gotta tell you, this will cause enormous consternation,” said Jack Evans, chair of the Committee on Finance and Revenue, which held the hearing. He said every civic group, every advisory neighborhood commission and untold numbers of citizens would be stunned if gambling locations suddenly popped up on their blocks.

At the week’s end, Evans announced that he had met with lottery officials and they’d agreed to indefinitely postpone the “hot spot” online gaming operation until the city’s communities are fully briefed. “We cannot move forward without providing them the opportunity to weigh in on these issues,” Evans wrote.

Lottery director Buddy Roogow tried to tone down the criticism but acknowledged the public wariness. Appearing Friday on WAMU’s Politics Hour with Kojo Nnamdi, Roogow pledged a public information campaign.

There are doubts about how much money the city will earn if this goes forward. There are doubts about how much of an online casino is a good idea.

There are so many doubts, it’s not a good time to double down on any of this.

• H Street ArtsWalk.

It’s nice to drive east on H Street these days from Union Station and not spend all of your time dodging construction crews and orange striped barrels.

It seems like a decade of construction, but it’s been only a few years of work along this 15-block stretch. It used to be a major commercial hub, up until the 1968 riots. It was downhill for decades after that. But in recent years, new businesses, bars and restaurants have been giving H Street new life.

This past week the area sponsored an ArtsWalk that drew thousands of people. We spotted Ward 6 Council member Tommy Wells holding court with passersby at the Argonaut sidewalk cafe. (Well, to be more accurate, we didn’t spot him. We were sitting at the next table over.)

• Fourth of July hangover.

As a “military brat” growing up, your Notebook developed a strong affinity for the American flag and our national anthem. When we go to a baseball game, we always try to be on time to hear the anthem, no matter what unique way it may be played or sung. (On our last visit, it was played by a violinist who used a violin made out of a baseball bat.).

We don’t feel so good about encroachments on our American way of life. Specifically, the American Civil Liberties Union has filed suit against the Metropolitan Police Department alleging its officers violated a young man’s constitutional rights when he used his cellphone camera to photograph the officers in public last year.

Jerome Vorus was walking in Georgetown last July when he snapped pictures of a police traffic stop. Police told him to put the camera away and to show some identification. He was detained for about an hour. The officers said it was unlawful to photograph or record police officers without prior consent.

On its face, that’s ridiculous. We won’t judge the case -- we don’t know all the details -- but we’re anxious to see what happens next. The ACLU says the citizen was not interfering with the police work and that the officers violated his rights.

“That’s part of our right of free speech,” said the ACLU’s Arthur Spitzer, “and the police ought to know that citizens can do that. …”

How does that line go -- land of the free, home of the brave?

We do have to be brave to be free.

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