- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 8, 2004

The D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics is scheduled to vote today on an initiative that would pave the way for the District’s first casino. The proposal is a no-win situation for the nation’s capital. On the board’s agenda is determining ”if the ‘Lottery Expansion Initiative of 2004’ is the proper subject matter for an initiative and, if so, formulate the short title and summary statement.” We oppose the initiative on several grounds, including the fact that it shuts out free enterprise.

The proposed initiative stipulates that the gambling rights be granted to one entity — and one entity only — for at least 10 years. Moreover, it further stipulates that “any such expansion may occur only after such expansion is proposed by the [Lottery and Charitable Games] Board and approved by a two-thirds majority of the members of the Council of the District of Columbia.” For those lawmakers and members of the executive branch who have yet to call this three-card monte what it is, that two-thirds majority vote means the proponents themselves are overreaching D.C. law. Indeed, super-majority votes are only mandated to override a mayoral veto.

The players carrying most of the weight of the initiative are Pedro Alfonso, a D.C. activist-turned-businessman, and former mayoral wannabe John Ray, who opposed Vegas-style gaming on the Potomac when he was on the council. (Of course, the hotel union is part of the game plan, too.) They call their shady project the Capital Horizon Entertainment Complex and say it would cost about $500 million. They want to build it on New York Avenue NE — the so-called Gateway to the Nation’s Capital. The casino would be near three public schools, a homeless shelter, a faith-based substance abuse treatment center and the serene National Arboretum. So a casino would not make a suitable neighbor.

Their proposal boasts making millions for D.C. coffers, and it mandates that one-fourth of the net profits from the gaming machines go toward schools and — get this — a brand new entitlement that would discount drugs for seniors. If any deal is eventually struck — and we hope not — the city should ensure that it gets its 25 percent take off the top.

If you want to consider other reasons why the ballot initiative and the proposed site are objectionable, The Washington Post already has covered most of the issues in its editorial. Suffice it to say, the election board needs to vote “no” this evening on this underhanded initiative.

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