- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 2, 2004

An investment group seeking to build a $500 million gambling and entertainment complex along New York Avenue NE will have to wait at least one more week to collect the signatures needed to place the issue before voters in November, the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics ruled yesterday.

Wilma Lewis, who chairs the city’s election board, said more time is needed for the board to decide whether to allow a private investment group to start collecting signatures so the “Lottery Expansion Initiative” can be placed on the November ballot.

Board officials said the group backing the initiative, Citizens for Lottery Expansion Initiative Committee, submitted revised project plans Friday — after the original plans had already appeared in the D.C. Register — too late for public review.

The group, headed by local businessman Pedro Alfonso, chief executive officer of Dynamic Concepts, wants to seek voter approval for a 12-acre complex with 3,500video lottery terminals on New York Avenue NE between Montana Avenue and Bladensburg Road.

The elections board must grant permission before the group can start collecting signatures for the ballot measure. A hearing on the updated plans could be held as soon as next week, board officials said.

Under Mr. Alfonso’s proposal, 25 percent of profits from the video lottery terminals would be earmarked for D.C. residents to “improve District public schools and to assist District senior citizens in obtaining prescription drugs.”

Michael Pollock, publisher of New Jersey-based Gaming Industry Observer, a trade publication, said yesterday that the 25 percent figure was “on the low side” compared with what other states and localities receive from video lottery terminal profits.

Mr. Pollock said Chicago, Philadelphia and New York City are also considering video lottery terminals.

“This is clearly part of a national trend that we’re seeing,” Mr. Pollock said. “It’s viewed as a simple way to raise revenue, which it is, but things are never quite as simple as they seem.”

John Ray, attorney for Mr. Alfonso, said the project would also include a 600-to-800-room hotel, a conference center, a bowling alley, movie theater and retail shops.

“It’s going to turn New York Avenue into the gateway it should be,” Mr. Ray said.

Speaking with reporters yesterday afternoon, Mr. Ray sought to distance Mr. Alfonso’s proposal from the debate in Maryland over whether to permit slot machines, which Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, favors.

“This is not slots,” Mr. Ray said. “It is not a slot machine. It looks like a slot machine, but is not a slot machine.”

Mr. Pollock said the difference is that typically, video lottery terminals operate through a system of machines connected by one computer system, and payouts are based on the size of the pool of the players. However, slot players play against a single machine, he said.

“But from the standpoint of the players and the public, there isn’t much of a difference,” Mr. Pollock said.

Officials involved with the $500 million initiative say funds for the proposed facility, called the Capital Horizon Entertainment Complex, would be provided by a private “team of local and national investors.” Mr. Ray declined yesterday to identify the investors.

Mr. Alfonso said the proposed project “creates jobs and it creates contract opportunities for local firms.”

But District resident Regina James told board officials yesterday that the project would only attract crime and prostitution to the area.

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