Jaffe Report: Evans Investigations Give DC Council Reason to Pause on Sports Betting Contract - NBC4 Washington
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Jaffe Report: Evans Investigations Give DC Council Reason to Pause on Sports Betting Contract

Council hearing on sports betting contract Wednesday

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    Harry Jaffe, a longtime chronicler of the people and politics of Washington, D.C., writes an opinion column for NBC Washington's First Read DMV blog.

    D.C. Council member Jack Evans has done his colleagues a favor. As he succumbs to charges of corruption, he’s given them the opportunity to exercise true oversight on the sole-source sports betting contract he maneuvered through the D.C. government.

    In my 30-plus years covering the District, I have rarely seen a piece of legislation that demands oversight more than the sports betting contract. It takes from the poor and gives to a few rich professional sports team owners. Fathered by Evans, it was shoved through the council. It was wired by the Office of the Chief Financial Officer to benefit one company with certain minority contractors, all of whom have dropped generous political contributions on Mayor Muriel Bowser, Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and most council members.

    It stinks.

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    The stench was evident when Evans introduced the bill to legalize sports betting Sept. 18. He talked of riches — but only if the council moved quickly. Bowser’s political chief, John Falcicchio, already had the vast benefits spent on good causes. A spokesman for the chief financial officer blessed it. Ted Leonis, who owns several Washington sports teams, including the Capitals, Wizards and Mystics, spoke well of rampant wagering without mentioning it would plump up his revenues. Mendelson said he would hold his nose and support legalized betting for the “best interests” of the District, according to the Washington Post.

    The council on Wednesday will hold an oversight hearing on whether to approve the $215 million contract to run the District’s brand new sports betting system. Intralot, the Greek company that operates the District’s lottery system, didn’t even have to compete for the deal. Backed by Evans, D.C. CFO Jeffrey DeWitt advocated Intralot receive the contract. No others need apply.

    Why?

    Mendelson said Monday he would chair Wednesday’s hearing in the committee of the whole. With that he took it away from Evans’ finance and revenue committee. Mendelson also suggested Evans might have to recuse himself from voting on the contract.

    That’s a good first step.

    The next steps are the essence of good oversight.

    — Let’s begin with Intralot’s capacity to create from scratch a sports betting operation. According to various reports, Intralot is not on stable financial footing. Fitch placed it on a “negative” rating watch.

    — Next, the council should ask DeWitt and DC Lottery Executive Director Beth Bresnahan why they breathlessly pushed the council to give Intralot the contract. They argued it would save time and beat Maryland and Virginia to the gaming trough. Funny how neither neighboring state is close to even considering sports betting. Funny. Not so. Ask them why.

    — All council members, especially Mendelson, have demanded competitive contracting for big-dollar deals. It’s simple: When competing for contracts, companies offer better service at a lower price. Why give this one away? Ask.

    — The council has a shocking lack of expertise to adequately determine whether the Intralot contract tracks or delivers. The chairman’s office could not identify the council expert. Check out the contract.

    — In advocating for the deal, the CFO kept touting how many millions of dollars would roll into the District’s coffers thanks to sports betting. Here’s the thing: D.C. is cash rich. Nearly every year the CFO reports wads of surplus cash. Why, then, would DeWitt step out of his role of bean counter and lobby for sole source — to add money the District doesn’t need? Ask.

    — Oh, and Evans and the deal’s advocates promised the council that the expected $20 million generated by sports betting would go toward violence prevention and early childhood education. Psych! The funds will go into the general fund.

    Can you say sleight of hand?

    Evans engineered the sports betting legislation and pushed it toward Intralot months ago. Since then he’s come under federal investigation for using his public office for personal gain. The Metro board conducted an investigation that turned up examples of just that. “Straight up corruption,” said Council member Mary Cheh. Federal agents raided Evans’ home last week.

    Mendelson, who’s been loath to take forceful action against his longtime colleague, said the council will bring in an outside council to undertake its own investigation.

    Perhaps that’s the best way to handle oversight over the sports betting contract. Hire an outside expert. What’s the rush?

    Beyond oversight, the council might want to table the sports betting deal until the investigations into Evans’ relationships are complete. Local news blog District Dig has already delved into Evans’ ties to lottery contractors. What if feds turn up unsavory, perhaps illegal, connections between government officials and the sports gaming interests.

    Evans has given the council the opportunity to pause. Best to take it.

    Harry Jaffe, a longtime chronicler of the people and politics of Washington, D.C., writes an opinion column for NBC Washington's First Read DMV blog.

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