Washington, D.C., with its under 1 million population, has become the first jurisdiction in the United States to legalize online gambling.
The District of Columbia is looking to raise millions of dollars from a multi-billion dollar industry that, until now, has operated exclusively offshore from the United States. That apparently is about to change.
The Associated Press reported late Tuesday that permitting online gambling was part of a 2011 budget and a 30-day period for Congress to object expired last week, said D.C. Council, member Michael A. Brown, who authored the provision.
"There was really no clear law that said we could not do this," Brown said last week.
The Web gambling business would be operated by Intralot, a Greece-based company. Bets would have to be placed within the District of Columbia. Unlike previous state measures such as those recommended in New Jersey, which failed to pass legislation last month, those betting from Washington, DC would not be required to actually live there. This essentially means that tourists and those who work in DC can likely play poker online. It is generally believed that the population of Washington, DC doubles during the work week to include approximately 1 million people.
The software would not be up and running until it could be shown that those living outside of the District were unable to gain access.
Officials estimate between $13 million to $14 million to come into the District through fiscal year 2014 as a result of the new industry.
"Anytime you're cutting budgets and you want to save some programs, you're looking for different pieces from different pots and you hope that you get to the number that restores those budget shortfalls and that's what we're trying to do with this," Brown said.
Jeff Ifrah, a lawyer who represents online poker firms Full Tilt and PokerStars, told the Associated Press he was dubious about any revenue estimates since he is doubtful current online poker players will be so quick to migrate from sites like those he represents.
"Players are really loyal in this industry," Ifrah said. "You really have to ask yourself what is the incentive a player is going to have to leave a trusted site with global competition to play in a site that's untested and kind of unknown and doesn't offer you the same level of play."
Both Full Tilt Poker and PokerStars have announced alliances with Las Vegas casino properties in recent weeks. PokerStars is backing a measure to legalize online poker in the state of Nevada.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Justice Department would not comment on the Washington DC measure when pressed by the Associated Press Tuesday evening.
Mayor Vincent Gray noted that he was not certain when the website would be operational.
"Assuming it's implemented it would become a part of our lottery program and could generate additional resources for the District of Columbia as we continue to support ourselves,” he told the AP.
In addition to online poker, Washington, DC could also offer other forms of Web gambling including casino games and sports betting.
- Christopher Costigan, Gambling911.com Publisher
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