Credit: Darrow Montgomery

The District’s chief financial officer said Monday that online sports gambling could begin as early as this fall. Bettors could wage phone-based bets on outcomes and performances of both pro and college sporting events.

But that’s only if the D.C. Council votes in the coming days and weeks to allow the city’s current lottery vendor to operate sports gaming—without seeking other competitive bids.

That was the focus of a four-hour Monday hearing in which some councilmembers and public witnesses insisted a competitive bidding process would be more transparent.

D.C. Councilmember Elissa Silverman (Independent, At-Large) sharply questioned parts of the financial analysis from CFO officials during and after the hearing. In response, the officials acknowledged some numbers were out of date and promised to update them.

But they have to do it fast. D.C Finance and Revenue Chairman Jack Evans said his committee would meet and vote Wednesday on the sole-source contract proposal. If it passes—as expected—it would go before the full council on the following Tuesday. Silverman is one of five members of the finance committee.

D.C. CFO Jeffrey DeWitt, who has staked his 30-year reputation on his plan, said the District would lose tens of millions of dollars by opening the sports contract to outside bids instead of just negotiating with Intralot, the current contractor for the lottery.

“I feel very strongly about this,” DeWitt said in the face of opposition. He said it was unusual for him to support a sole-source contract over public bidding, but said, “this is an unusual situation. Ninety-nine percent of the time I would be recommending a competitive process,” DeWitt said. “But this is a unicorn” opportunity.

D.C.’s lottery officials say the District needs to act quickly to get in the game before Maryland and Virginia, should those neighboring states act. Both state legislatures are considering online gaming, but it’s not clear either will approve it this year.

Opponents of the idea to have a sole-source contract with the city’s lottery vendor, Intralot, said the public is getting a raw deal.

“Many people don’t even realize a gambling parlor can be opening down the street from them … it just smells … it just smells,” said frequent government critic Dorothy Brizill.

“I am stunned any of you would support a waiver” of competitive bidding, said Marie Drissell, another veteran critic. Drissell helped blow the whistle on a move back in 2010 to rush sports gambling approvals.

Several councilmembers, including Ward 5’s Kenyan McDuffie and at-large member Robert White, among others, have questioned whether minority contractors are being included or shut out of the lucrative sports lottery business.

CFO DeWitt assured the council that any new contract with Intralot will meet or exceed the city’s Certified Business Enterprise requirements. Some witnesses questioned whether the CFO would aggressively include minority interests. “I take great offense at that personally,” said DeWitt, who is white.