- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 10, 2004

The D.C. Board of Elections has ruled that proponents of a gambling initiative fell short on valid signatures to place the measure on the November ballot. In fact, the board uncovered fraud, forgery and what it termed “systemic” violations of election laws, leaving Board Chairman Wilma Lewis to characterize the petition drive as an attempt “to turn the laws of the District on its head.” We urge Mrs. Lewis, a former federal prosecutor, to root out violators for appropriate prosecution and punishment. Similarly, we urge the mayor and the D.C. Council to step up to their own challenges regarding this particular voter initiative.

Several troubling aspects to the slots campaign surfaced before the elections board began its marathon deliberations. As this newspaper’s reporting and editorials informed readers, D.C. policy-makers and voters simply knew too little about the investors and even less about the legislative text accompanying the initiative.

First of all, the initiative would have forced the city to permit the opening of a casino along a gateway to the capital — and within a stone’s throw of schools and churches, a homeless shelter, a cemetery and two drug-rehabilitation centers — and not all of the casino’s potential neighbors were even aware of the scheme. One of the landowners who stood to reap financial gains is Gerald Schaeffer, once a campaign contributor to John Ray — a former council member and mayoral contender who presently is chief lobbyist for the casino. The project was to be financed by two Virgin Islands businesses — Bridge Capital LLC and North Atlantic Investments LLC. Bridge Capital’s president, John K. Baldwin, was a partner in a company that in the late 1990s owned gambling halls in South Carolina that failed to pay taxes and broke state gaming rules.

Moreover, the legislation accompanying the initiative made a direct assault on City Hall and free enterprise. One section of the legislation would have established a monopoly on behalf of Mr. Ray’s clients for 10 years. Another section would have dictated that a two-thirds majority vote by the legislature would be required to overturn that monopoly. Still another would have limited the District’s share of revenues from the casino, and yet another further tied lawmakers’ hands by mandating how those revenues could be spent.

Mayor Williams and the 13-member legislature debated the moral and social aspects of gambling. But gambling in and of itself is not the issue that drives our debate; closing the loopholes that usurp the purview and the prerogatives of home rule do. That is where we urge City Hall to focus its efforts.

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