Monday, August 9, 2004

D.C. Council member Adrian M. Fenty is crafting legislation that would ban video lottery terminals to prevent a repeat of an effort by offshore investors to construct a gambling hall in Northeast.

Mr. Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat, said he plans to introduce the legislation next month, when the council returns from summer recess. “We’ve got to figure out what to do next,” he said. “We know at some point that slots are going to come back, but at the same time, we know the people of the District of Columbia don’t support slots.”

The D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics on Thursday rejected a petition for a referendum on the gambling plan because petitioners did not collect enough verifiable signatures.

Referendum supporters plan to appeal the board’s decision after a written ruling is released, which could be as early as today.

On July 13, eight of the council’s 13 members signed on to a sense of the council resolution declaring that city residents “would be worse off with thousands of video lottery terminals than it is without them.”

Mr. Fenty yesterday said support of the nonbinding resolution would translate into votes against gambling.

Dorothy Brizill, who filed one of two challenges against petitions for the slots plan, said Mr. Fenty’s proposal seemed reasonable, but she would rather the council fix loopholes in election laws.

“Something has to be done in terms of the law,” said Mrs. Brizill, founder of the government watchdog group DCWatch. “It puts too much burden on the citizens. That is unfair and unjust.”

She said the Board of Elections should not have to wait for a citizen to file a challenge before investigating a petition drive’s signature-gathering process.

Mrs. Brizill also said it is becoming increasingly common for petitioners to submit far more signatures than necessary and that reviewing tens of thousands of signatures in the mandated 10-day challenge period is too daunting.

Mr. Fenty agreed, saying his legislation would establish a threshold for the number of signatures that can be submitted.

He said he also would call for the creation of a staff investigator at the elections board who can make sure petition circulators are complying with laws and make recommendations to board members.

“I think the slots proponents benefited by catching everyone when they were off guard,” he said. “We won’t be next time.”

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