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The D.C. Council passed a $215 million, sole source contract to operate the city’s new sports gambling program, which came with an extra wrinkle of scandal once again tied to Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans. By a 7-5 vote, the Council approved the already controversial contract after At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman accused Chairman Phil Mendelson of trading “yes” votes for scraps of Evans’ dismantled Committee on Finance and Revenue.
Before the sports betting vote, the Council voted to remove Evans as chairman of the finance and revenue committee, a move that followed a separate investigation by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority board. WMATA’s investigation found Evans violated its code of ethics. When reporters questioned him, Mendelson did not deny the accusation. “I’ve not had that conversation,” he told Silverman, who asked him a similar question on the dais.
At-Large Councilmember Robert White told the Washington Post Monday that he was leaning against the contract. He previously voted against bypassing the city’s procurement laws that allowed the CFO to award the lucrative contract to the Greece-based Intralot and its local partner, Emmanuel Bailey, head of DC09.
During a roundtable hearing in late June, White expressed incredulity at the original justification given for a no-bid contract—that it would help the District beat Virginia and Maryland to market and therefore capture more revenue—and voiced concern that the contract did not do enough to help small local businesses grow in the gaming industry.
By Tuesday, in response to LL’s question about vote trading, White denied that he had traded his vote in exchange for Mendelson moving WMATA and the Metrorail Safety Commission into the Committee on Facilities and Procurement, which White chairs. He said his change of heart came from conversations he had with business owners, including Bailey, over the Fourth of July weekend.
“I don’t still like the idea of sole source contracts,” White said on the dais before the vote. “The problem is, if I vote against the sole source contract and we have a worse deal for the city and less meaningful opportunities for CBEs, I’m going to feel bad about that.”
Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie‘s business and economic development committee also scored a win Tuesday. It gained control of Destination DC, the DC Lottery, the Multistate Tax Commission, and the Office of the Chief Financial Officer from Evans’ gutted committee.
McDuffie previously voted against exempting the lottery contract from competitive bidding but voted in favor of the contract Tuesday. He did not give any indication of which way he was leaning ahead of the vote.
Before the vote, Silverman and Councilmembers Mary Cheh and David Grosso asked Evans multiple times to recuse himself due to potential conflicts of interest with his business partner and friend, N. William Jarvis, who lobbied the Council on behalf of Intralot and Bailey. Evans refused.
This article has been updated to correct one of the agencies in McDuffie’s committee. The Combat Sports Commission was mislabeled in legislation as the Combat Force Commission and it has been under McDuffie’s purview since January.