Eight of the 13 members of the D.C. City Council say they are opposed to the gambling measure set for referendum next Tuesday that would establish a legal numbers game here and sanction betting on jai alai and dog racing.
Members of the council majority said they are opposed to the measure, written by gambling proponents, for several reasons, but chiefly because of the authority that would be granted to a new and powerful five-member Gambling Control Board.
Several council members said that do not like the facts that profits from the legalized wagering -- possibly $35 million a year -- would not go directly to the city treasury, and that the board could bypass normal budgetary procedures and direct funds to various city agencies or private nonprofit groups. These opponents say the mayor and City Council would have only veto power over those allocations.
"The money will not be received in the same way as the normal budget process," said council member Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4). The provisions of the gambling proposal "really put a lot of the distribution of gambling revenue outside the direct control of the council. The gaming board will really be an independent board."
Another opponent of the initiative, council member Wilhelmina J. Rolark (d-Ward 8), described the gambling proposal as "programmed for failure," while council member Hilda Mason (Statehood-At large) said she does not "think District money ought to be handled" in the way proposed in the initiative.
Under the 43-page gambling proposal that voters will be enacting if a majority approves, the Gaming Control Board would be given broad authority to set regulations concerning legalized gambling in the city. The board also would award potentially lucrative contracts to operate daily numbers and lottery games and decide which companies could stage dog racing and jai alai. The five gaming board members would be appointed by the mayor with the consent of the City Council.
The gambling board would have a chairman who is paid $18,000 annually, four other members paid $15,000 a year and an executive director paid at least $47,900 a year. Some gambling opponents object to the fact that start-up costs for legalized gambling here, which could amount to $300,000, would come out of the D.C. treasury.
But the chief objections raised by several of the council members to the gaming board's authority center on its control over the million of dollars in expected gambling revenue.
Under the proposal, the gaming board would decide, "with the approval of the mayor, and the advice and consent of the council," how to distribute the betting profits.
While most states send their gambling revenue directly to their treasuries, the D.C. wagering law calls for the money to be disbursed to three categories: private, nonprofit groups providing services for D.C. residents, private and public special education programs and authorized, but unfunded, D.C. government programs.
The law does not specify what percentage each category would get, but the D.C. Gambling Study Commission recommended that the unfunded programs get half the pot and that special education and the nonprofit groups split the rest.
Council member John Ray (D-At Lrge) and other council gambling opponents said they think the gaming board's authority to suggest where the money should be spent is an abuse of the normal budgeting process. Ordinary the major sends the council his budget proposal and then the council considers it at public hearings.
Mayor Marion Barry, a gambling proponent when he was a city councilman, privately supports the gambling proposal, but has taken no public stance on the referendum.
The proposed law does not spell out how the gaming board should resolve conflict with the mayor and council over how to spend gambling revenue. But Brant Coopersmith, chairman of the umbrella group supporting legalized gambling here, said he does not foresee any further problems.
"I can't see the board disagreeing with something the mayor and the council want to do," Coopersmith said.
The gaming board "would hopefully" set regulations before starting gambling in the city that would spell out exactly how to resolve conflicts over how to spend the money, he added.
Coopersmith said gambling proponents wanted the gambling revenue handled differently from general city money so as to distinguish "voluntary money from gambling from mandatory taxation" that goes to the city treasury.
Council member William Spaulding (D-Ward 5) bottled up in committee last year a proposal for an advisory gambling referendum and then the council declined to discharge the measure so the entire panel could vote on it. The advisory referendum would only have sampled opinion and not enacted legalized gambling.
The eight council members who say they oppose the initiative are Nadine P. Winter (D-Ward 6), John Wilson (D-Ward 2), Jerry A. Moore Jr. (R-At Large), Jarvis, Rolark, Mason, Ray and Spaulding.
The other five council members -- Chairman Arrington Dixon, David A. Clarke (D-Ward 1), Polly Shackleton (D-Ward 3), Betty Ann Kane (D-At Large) and Willie j. Hardy (D-Ward 7) -- support the initiative.
Several of the council's gambling proponents said they see the measure as a much-needed source of revenue for the cash-strapped city, which is now facing a $170-million budget deficit this year.