Proponents of the legalized gambling initiative overwhelmingly rejected by District of Columbia voters in the May 6 election have launched a drive to put a modified version of the measure on the city's Nov. 4 ballot.
The new initiative, filed with the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics on Thursday, would legalize only a city-run lottery and numbers game, like those in Maryland, along with bingo games and raffles conducted for charitable purposes.
It leaves out two of the more controversial provisions of the earlier measure -- pari-mutuel wagering on dog racing and jai alai. In addition, the new proposal calls for the estimated $30 million anticipated annually from city-run lottery and numbers operations to be sent to the D.C. treasury and disbursed by the mayor and City Council.
Under the defeated proposal, gambling revenues largely would have been controlled by a new and potentially powerful D.C. Gaming Control Board and only part of the money would have eventually been sent to the cash-strapped city government. That provision was sharply attacked by some opponents of the gambling measure, including several City Council members.
Under the new proposal, a five-member D.C. Lottery and Charitable Games Control Board would be created, but its function would be limited to setting regulations for the forms of gambling that would be legalized.
Brant Coopersmith, who heads the D.C. Committee on Legalized Gambling and spearheaded the fight for passage of this month's referendum, said the new measure was an attempt to "take into consideration all the objections" to the defeated initiative and eliminate them.
Despite early predictions of victory for the first gambling measure, voters citywide rejected it by a 3-to-2 margin. The initiative carried in only one of the city's eight wards and generally only in low-income areas.
Many voters interviewed at the polls on election day said they were not philosophically opposed to gambling and might support lottery or numbers game if it were divorced from the dog racing and jai alai provisions.
He predicted that the new proposal would be approved by city voters.But he said that he would prefer to have the City Council act before November to legalize gambling and "save the city the [extra] expense" of holding a gambling referendum in conjunction with the presidential balloting the same day.
Coopersmith said his group would be pressed for time to collect the necessary 12,500 signatures of registered voters needed to place the measure on the November ballot. As a practical matter, he said, the signatures must be in by early July, leaving only four or five weeks to conduct the petition drive and then another month for the elections board to certify the authenticity of the signatures.
He said he expected that this time the campaign would proceed without the financial support of dog racing and jai alai interests, who made large contributions to the first progambling effort. He said he anticipated receiving financial support again from city liquor store owners, who want a D.C. lottery because they say they are losing their customers to stores in Maryland where patrons can play the state's lottery and daily numbers games.
Coopersmith said that even with less than the $115,000 raised by progambling forces before, he believes the measure can win in November. "If it gets placed on the ballot, I think you almost don't need a campaign," he said.
City Council member John L. Ray (D-At-Large), an opponent of the first gambling measure, said he is against this one, too. He said he suspects that Coopersmith is merely trying to pressure the council into action and was not serious about the initiative drive. Ray contended that without money from dog racing and jai alai interests Coopersmith would not have enough cash to mount an effective campaign.
They bought their way onto the ballot last time," Ray said. "They're not going to have that kind of money."
Council member Betty Ann Kane (D-At-Large) said she would support the new initiative "so we can get a clean vote on whether people want a lottery." She predicted there would be no council action on gambling soon because of "some uncertainty as to what the real reasons for the (May 6) defeat were."
The most visible stalwarts of the earlier campaign against gambling were members of the black clergy. Coopersmith said he does not believe the ministers were the "critical factor" in defeating the proposal. But the ministers took a large measure of credit and say they will be back this fall opposing the new initiative if it qualifies for the ballot.
"We'll have to raise our voices," said the Rev. John D. Bussey, pastor of Bethesda Baptist Church in Northeast Washington and leader of the antigambling fight.
"The District of Columbia, which already has so nobly been delivered from that evil, ought to be really careful and maintain that deliverance," Bussey said.
Bussey charged that gambling proponents are now trying to get the original measure passed in piecemeal fashion. He said concerned ministers would meet within the next two weeks to map out strategy for their new campaign.
Aside from dropping jai alai and dog racing, there is one other gambling difference between the two proposals.
The defeated measure also would have legalized social betting, such as poker games in private homes. The new proposal would not.