- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 28, 2004

A three-member panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit yesterday upheld the city elections board’s decision to remove from November’s ballot an initiative to build a casino on New York Avenue NE.

Supporters wanted to put more than 3,000 video lottery terminals in a facility to be built in a run-down section of the city, about three miles northeast of the U.S. Capitol.

The initiative was challenged by Dorothy Brizill, who runs the government watchdog group DC Watch, and lawyer Ronald Drake. After a series of public hearings, the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics ruled Aug. 5 that the methods used to collect the signatures and promote the initiative violated local regulations.

At the time, board Chairwoman Wilma A. Lewis — a former U.S. attorney — said supporters “turned the law of the District of Columbia on its head” by using nonresidents to gather signatures and using false advertising to get people to sign petitions.

“They tried to word the initiative to fool people into thinking it was going to be about jobs and health care and education,” Miss Brizill said. “Whether it was slots or donkey races, we couldn’t have these kinds of violations of our election laws.”

Repeated calls to proponents of the initiative were not returned. A spokesman for the elections board said ballots for the Nov. 2 general election were submitted for printing yesterday. The election guide sanctioned by the elections board will be printed Friday.

The appeals panel’s ruling is subject to review by the entire nine-member court. If at least five members vote to overturn it, proponents could seek an order to authorize reprinting of the ballots.

Most of the D.C. Council’s 13 members oppose the casino, as does Mayor Anthony A. Williams, who was pleased with the court’s ruling.

“I thought the Board of Elections did a good job and I think the matter should just rest,” Mr. Williams said.

Backers of the initiative reportedly have spent more than $1.2 million to get it on the ballot. Opponents spent about $2,000 and hundreds of volunteer hours challenging more than 50,000 signatures.

Neighborhood groups have long complained about drug trafficking and prostitution in the vicinity of the 14-acre site proposed for the casino, which would not have table games or traditional slot machines.

The development plan included a hotel, stores and restaurants that would generate an estimated 1,500 jobs and $210 million in local tax revenues.

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