Gambling promoters from the U.S. Virgin Islands paid $100,000 yesterday to D.C. elections officials as part of an agreement that ends for now their campaign to legalize slot machines in the nation's capital.
Under the agreement, negotiated late Wednesday with the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics, proponents of the gambling initiative vowed to drop their bid to put the issue before District voters. They also agreed to pay the board $100,000 and to receive training from city lawyers if they decide to start the initiative process anew.
The board did not require gambling advocates to admit that they violated D.C. election laws when they launched a last-minute petition drive over the Christmas holiday in hopes of winning a spot on the 2006 ballot, months after the board had rejected the slots initiative. Still, board Chairman Wilma A. Lewis said the agreement would bring an end to activities that the board continues to view as illegal.
"By this action, the Board believes that it has appropriately addressed the issues surrounding this matter," Lewis said in a written statement. "The actions taken by the board emphasize its commitment to enforce the District of Columbia election and campaign finance laws and maintain the integrity of the electoral process."
George Jones, an attorney for a political action committee formed to promote the gambling measure, said his clients are pleased with the agreement, which ends a dispute over whether the measure could legally be revived.
Jones said his clients have not decided whether they will start the initiative process anew. If they do, he said, they will be happy to consult first with attorneys at the elections board and in the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance.
"We really do want to get it right if we decide to go forward," Jones said. "This is crazy. We've already spent a small fortune."
At issue is a proposal to construct an entertainment complex containing 3,500 slot machines on a 14-acre site at New York Avenue and Bladensburg Road NE. The plan is the brainchild of Shawn Scott, a St. Croix entrepreneur who, along with his associates, has spent nearly $1.7 million on a campaign to persuade D.C. voters to legalize slot machines and authorize construction of a gambling parlor on the site.
In August, the elections board ruled that gambling promoters had not qualified for a spot on the 2004 ballot because they had failed to obtain a sufficient number of valid signatures. Though petition circulators had gathered far more than the 17,599 required by law, the board threw out thousands of signatures that it determined had been forged or fraudulently obtained by petition circulators who were not District residents.
In December, gambling advocates tried to revive the initiative by collecting more signatures. Yesterday's agreement ends that effort. Slots supporters now face a penalty hearing to determine whether they should be fined for misconduct during the July petition drive. A hearing on that matter is scheduled for March 10.