- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 6, 2006

About 30 people yesterday gathered at the proposed site of a gambling hall in Southeast to rally against an initiative that would legalize slot machines in the District.

Chanting “No slots! No slots,” the crowd demonstrated outside a vacant yellow building at Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and Good Hope Road SE and listened to several community leaders criticize gambling in general and the proposed slot-machine casino in particular.

“People become addicted to gambling. Rich people become richer,” D.C. Council member Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican, told the crowd. “This is a destructive effort, not a constructive development. Washington is in need of construction.”

Anthony Muhammad, a member of the Advisory Neighborhood Commission who helped organize the rally, said: “Ward 8 has no grocery stores in it. Slots will destroy Ward 8 more. … Slots would set it back 100 years. It would cause more crime. It would bring in more illegal drugs.”

“A casino at this location would be a death knell for development. Slot machines would be a bad bet for development,” said Philip Pannell, executive director of Anacostia Coordinating Council in Ward 8.

Rally participants urged residents not to participate in a petition drive to put an initiative that would authorize slot-machine gambling on November’s ballots.

Yesterday’s demonstration occurred a day after the D.C. Board of Elections declined to investigate charges that petition circulators are collecting signatures illegally. Board Chairman Wilma A. Lewis ruled Wednesday that her panel cannot investigate petition complaints until after the signatures have been submitted to the board for certification.

Jeffrey D. Robinson, an attorney for the slots promoters, said Wednesday, “The signatures are being gathered in compliance with the law, and we are perfectly prepared to defend that.”

The Video Lottery Terminal Gambling Initiative of 2006 would legalize devices similar to slot machines in Southeast.

The petition effort, financed by U.S. Virgin Islands gambling promoter Shawn A. Scott, requires more than 18,000 valid signatures for the initiative to be placed on the ballot.

The elections board killed a similar effort in 2004 after a phony signature and several false declarations of residence were found among the petitions.

Mr. Scott was the chief financial backer of that effort, and the group that circulated the petitions was fined more than $622,000 for violations of election law.

The petitions are to be presented to the elections board by 5 p.m. Monday.

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