Smart money has it that District of Columbia voters will have a legalized gambling initiative on the city's Nov. 4 ballot because supporters of the measure have collected nearly twice as many signatures as are needed on petitions to qualify the question for a vote up or down.
Gambling proponents claimed to have filed 23,000 signatures on 1,442 petitions with the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics by yesterday's deadline. Only 12,681 signatures are required, but extra signatures always provide a margin of safety in case some signatures are found to be invalid.
The elections board will hear challenges to the signatures next week. Supporters of the gambling drive are anticipating stiff opposition, particularly from the city's ministers.
Gambling proponents say they are confident that they have more than enough signatures to withstand any challenge, and that the initiative will be certified.
The city's politically active religious community is gearing up for what promises to be a heated fight, even though supporters of the measure claim that its most objectionable elements have been removed.
A gambling initiative overwhelmingly was rejected by city voters in the May 6 primary election, largely because of objections to provisions legalizing dog racing and jai lai. Many opponents of that defeated initiative also contended that the proposed gambling commission would be a virtual invitation to organized crime to come into the District of Columbia.
The new measure, being pushed by the same authors of that May 6 initiative, would legalize only a city lottery and raffles and bingo games for charities. The money raised from the lottery would go directly into the city's cofters, instead of to a separate commission.
"All those things people objected to are no longer in the bill," said Brant Coopersmith, the initiative's chief proponent and head of the D.C. Committee to Legalize Gambling. "We changed this thing to meet the will of the people. I wonder what the preachers are going to have against this one."
What the preachers have against it is that "legalization of gambling would corrupt and deteriorate character, would destroy industry and thrift, and would totally disrupt family life and destroy our city's most important asset -- our moral fabric," according to resolution adopted by the Committee of 100 Ministers at a prayer breakfast last week.
According to the Rev. Andrew Fowler, head of the committee, the resolution calls for "all religious, fraternal, educational, social and humane organizations" to join the ministers in defeating the gambling measure.