- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 1, 2004

Rising to the top of the “words-that-come-back-to-bite-you” file are words courtesy of

then-interim D.C. Council Chairman John Ray: “Every city has a certain character. The nation’s capital is a reflection of what we are. … Casino gambling simply does not fit in. We’re not some isolated place in the desert or a party town like New Orleans. [A casino] might drive out as many businesses in the District as it would attract in Nevada.”

How about this from another 1993 story in The Washington Times: “[Mr.] Ray said yesterday there is little public support for casino gambling and that the British model will not provide jobs and create the kind of economic climate [Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly] says she wants to create.

“I don’t see why the council should put in regulations for some fat cats to go to a social club,” said Mr. Ray. After conducting a small survey, Mr. Ray said, “From all the signs I get, the people are overwhelmingly against this. … I know I will do all I can to stop it. … I’m ready for the fight but I think we can win it.”

Well, as they say, that was then; this is now.

Now, Mr. Ray is the principal, highly paid water carrier for outside investors seeking to expand gambling in the nation’s capital at breakneck speed.

Now, Mr. Ray is predicting he will win the fight — and the jackpot — to get enough petition signatures by Tuesday’s deadline to place a video slots initiative on the November ballot. Now, Mr. Ray argues that this gambling initiative will bring business and funds for schools and seniors that will enhance, rather than detract, from the character of the nation’s capital.

What’s changed? The capital in Mr. Ray’s hands.

Mr. Ray is raking in big bucks to represent a group trying to build a $500 million gambling and entertainment complex on 14 acres along New York Avenue NE that will include a hotel, a conference center, a bowling alley, a movie theater, retail shops and 3,500 video lottery terminals. Just nix the slots.

At the time Mr. Ray was fighting gambling, George W. Brown was the deputy mayor for economic development.

“When I was deputy mayor, we were pushing for a $500 million casino operation,” Mr. Brown said yesterday. “There were proposals from some operators to build us a new convention center if they could only have the site of the then-current center. Wow, what an opportunity, I thought. We were facing at least a $500 million deficit, our convention center was no longer a tier-one facility, and we were losing opportunities.” He remembers well Mr. Ray’s words.

Now, Mr. Brown is the opponent. “We don’t need the gambling industry to prey on the citizens of the District of Columbia. We’re already in a fight against abusive and predatory lending financial practices in mortgage, payday loans and overdraft loans,” he said.

Today, Mr. Brown is senior vice president for the Center for Responsible Lending and Self-Help and director of its D.C. office. The organization is one of the nation’s leading community development lenders and has provided $3.5 billion in financing to help more than 40,000 underserved families own homes or small businesses.

Mr. Brown said it is true that casinos generate enormous revenues for state and local governments through lucrative licensing fees and other general taxes. But revenues, more often than not, go to the general fund and are subject to the normal political pressures for resource use.

Jobs are created, he concedes, but they are low-end for the most part, offer few transferable skills and are not career-focused. Often the most senior positions are filled by outsiders.

It’s no secret that most D.C. folks see this gaming folly for what it is: a way for a few “fat cats” from who knows where bankrolled by who knows who to use a few black faces as a front to get rich off poor black people.

The speedy way this shady, privately funded initiative is being rammed through the District is scary. Should proponents prevail in getting the 17,500 signatures necessary to get the initiative on the ballot, every local leader should pledge to do everything they can to stop it.

Mr. Ray says he is still against riverboat or casino gambling. He contends that lottery terminals are simply video versions of scratch cards or “video keno.”

“This is not slots,” he recently told The Times. “It is not a slot machine. It looks like a slot machine, but is not a slot machine.” Cha-ching.

Michael Pollock, publisher of the New Jersey-based Gaming Industry Observer, told The Times that video lottery terminals operate differently, “but from the standpoint of the players and the public, there isn’t much of a difference.”

D.C. Superior Court Judge James E. Boasberg ruled that proponents must include a clause stating that video lottery terminals are “very similar to slot machines” in their petitions. He also ordered them to delete words that suggest that the pithy 25 percent of the proceeds going to city coffers will be earmarked for schools and seniors.

“It isn’t good enough to say it’s about more revenue and yet our children lack fundamental values and principles [such as] ‘Don’t spend your money on unwise things’ and ‘Don’t gamble,’” said Mr. Brown, who is also a leader in the Living Word Church. “If we are to demonstrate to our children the values of saving, of not looking for the quick fixes — like the game of chance — then we, the parents, the leaders and the government must preach what we practice.”

Finally, Mr. Brown said, “As John [Ray] asked, ‘What are we?’”

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