A petition seeking a Nov. 6 citywide referendum on legalized gambling in the District of Columbia has been filed with the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics, the board announced yesterday.
The petition was filed by the D.C. Committee on Legalized Gambling, formed by a group of people and organizations who failed to persuade the City Council last spring that it should call an advisory referendum on gambling.
To get on the ballot, the committee's petition must be certified. Then, the group must collect at least 12,451 signatures, including those of at least 5 percent of all voters in each of the five city voting wards.
If it qualifies for the ballot and is approved by a majority of city voters, the referendum would create a municipal lottery similar to the one in Maryland, and would legalize social gambling, charitable bingo games and parimutuel gambling on jai alai and dog racing.It also would establish a five-member D.C. Gaming Control Board.
Such a referendum would be expected to spark a controversial campaign, since Protestant church groups, spearhead by Baptist ministers, have announced firm opposition to any form of legalized gambling in the city.
Martin E. Firestone, lawyer for the Committee on Legalized Gambling, said its members include the Washington Jai Alai Corp., which he also represents, and the D.C. Retail Liquor Dealers Association.The jai alai company is promoting the construction of a fronton (arena) for the fastpaced sport, which is played-and wagered upon-in such states as Florida and Connecticut.
Firestone said a citizen study commission had estimated legalized gambling could bring in $45 million or more in annual revenue to the city.