- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 1, 2004

The D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics will conclude hearings today on challenges to a petition drive to put slots-style gambling on the Nov. 2 ballot, with closing arguments capping eight days of testimony that included accusations of fraud.

The three-member board must rule by tomorrow on challenges to most of the 56,044 signatures collected in support of the proposed $500 million gambling hall on New York Avenue in Northeast.

If the initiative survives the challenges, the board has until Thursday to decide whether supporters collected the minimum of 17,599 valid signatures from registered D.C. voters required to put the issue on the ballot.

Scheduled to testify today is Mike Jones, a California man who supervised teams of circulators and who has been accused of paying D.C. residents to vouch for petition sheets circulated illegally by out-of-towners.

The board secured immunity for several D.C. residents who testified last week that they signed affidavits attesting to the validity of petitions that they did not circulate. The initiative’s backers withdrew about 400 petitions on Thursday because of the testimony.

However, none of the witnesses provided irrefutable testimony to substantiate claims that names were copied onto petitions out of the phone book during a “signing party” held at the Red Roof Inn on H Street NW, which served as a base for out-of-town workers.

Ron Drake, a D.C. lawyer who filed one of the challenges, yesterday was preparing his closing arguments, which likely will focus on his contention that pervasive fraud in the petition drive should disqualify the entire effort.

The argument mirrors the challenge that bumped D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams off the ballot in 2002 after the board determined that thousands of signatures on the mayor’s candidacy petitions were forged. Mr. Drake served as legal counsel to the challengers of the Williams petitions.

All members of the elections board, however, have been newly appointed by the mayor since its ruling against Mr. Williams, who retained his office in 2002 as a write-in candidate.

“It is all on the board now,” Mr. Drake said yesterday.

He said he would not have opposed the referendum if backers had not tried to dupe citizens with promises of a massive redevelopment project supposedly linked to the casino.

“It’s false advertising,” Mr. Drake said. “This is not about slots. This is a carny operation to push something onto the city.”

John Ray, a former D.C. Council member and chief lobbyist for the initiative, could not be reached for comment.

A separate challenge was filed by Dorothy Brizill of the government watchdog group DCWatch and Regina James of D.C. Against Slots. The board heard the challenges together.

The Video Lottery Terminal Initiative of 2004 would authorize a slots palace with 3,500 video-lottery terminals, which are computerized slot machines, on New York Avenue between Montana Avenue and Bladensburg Road in Northeast.

The slots would generate revenues estimated at $765 million a year, with 25 percent paid to the District. Supporters say the gambling hall would be part of a larger entertainment complex with a hotel, movie theater, bowling alley and restaurants.

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