A member of the D.C. City Council asked the U.S. attorney's office yesterday to investigate allegations that a group promoting legalized gambling in the District illegally secured signatures for a referendum on gambling this fall.
Council member William Spaulding (D-Ward 5) said he asked for the investigation because he believes the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics had not adequately responded to his request for a full investigation.
Spaulding was joined in his move yesterday by scores of clergy and church members from several organizations who attended a District Building press conference that took on the appearance of a church revival against the evils of games of chance.
"the same evil that made the children of Israel make bricks out of straw, the same evil that hung Jesus on the cross, the same evil that put Daniel in the lions' den is the same evil that wants legalized gambling in the District of Columbia" declared the Rev. Andrew Fowler, to a chorus of amens from those assembled.
The church leaders said they were upset by news reports that the D.C. Committee on Legalized Gambling had hired 40 young people and paid them $6 an hour to circulate petitions for a referedum on legal wagering this November.
Late yesterday, D.C. Superior Court Judge Annice Wagner denied a motion by the Council of Churches of Greater Washington for a temporary restraining order to prevent the election board frm validating the referendum petitions.
The group has also asked for a preliminary injunction to bar validation of the petitions. The hearing for that motion is set for Aug. 7.
At the press conference yesterday, the Rev. Charles Green of Pilgrim Baptist Church set the tone for the gathering by praying for deliverance "from the great evil that is about to come in our city.
"Lead us to higher heights to Thee, rather than the depths of sin city," Green prayed, to amens from some 200 people, mostly ministers, church laymen and women dressed in Sunday dresses and hats.
For several years, leaders of several religious groups, particularly the politically powerful Committee of 100 Ministers and the Baptist Ministers Conference, have opposed efforts to legalize gambling here. Fowler, executive secretary of the Committee of 100, said, "Our purpose here is to register out sense of outrage."
The ministers had hoped that by showing in court that the pro-gambling petitions were illegally gathered, they could also invalidate the signatures calling for the referendum.
But at the press conference yesterday, the opposition to gambling was couched mainly on moral grounds.
"honoring the Almighty God before I even start, I think it nothing short of alarming that our children would be paid secure signatures to make legalized gambling an item for the referendum," said Evangeline Yeldell, clerk at Providence Baptist Church, her wide-brim straw hat dipping as she shook her head for emphasis.
The Rev. Imagene Stewart, pastor of the Church of What's Happening Now, said she was incensed not only about legalizing gambling, but that some churches encouraged forms of gambling in church-sponsored trips and bingo parties.
"it's gotten to the point that you can't give anyone your birthdate or house address or even have a dream . . . the general response is 'was there a number in it?'" she said. "Street crime and white collar crime is bad enough in this valley of dry bones.
"brothers and sisters of the dust, your bones can come alive if you stop playing the numbers and lend your support against gambling."