The Nov. 4 referendum on statehood for the District of Columbia is gaining momentum, with numerous prominent city politicians and some of the major interest groups publicly lining up behind the proposal in the final weeks before the vote.

Much of the support is cautious and rarely spoken, however. Many officials complain that they dislike the proposal but are afraid to speak against it lest they be viewed as opposing full home rule for Washington -- the political equivalent of a capital offense in the nation's capital.

"You cannot speak out against self-determination," said Council Chairman Arrington Dixon. "As a statement of self-determination, we cannot not support it, he said.

"It's a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't situation," said Council member David A. Clarke (D-Ward 1). "Given that it is before us, I support it. I'm enthusiastic about the idea of statehood, but not the timing" of this initiative, Clarke said.

Many of the same politicians, by contrast are for the most part keeping at arm's length from the initiative to legalize certain forms of gambling in the city.

Even opponents of legal gambling believe that this bill has a better chance of passage than a more sweeping and much more controversial measure defeated in May. Many city officials privately support the plan, but apparently feel that the measure will pass anyway and see little need to take an unnecessary political risk.

"Last time, I took a very vigorous position against it," said Council member Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4). "Now, I really think I would prefer to have the people vote the initiative down so we can bring it through the Council."

As a result, pro-gambling forces are confident, especially since dog racing and jai alai -- the two betting games. that generated the most opposition in the earlier referendum -- are not included this time. "Now we've gotten rid of all the objectionable stuff," said Brant Coopersmith, head of the D.C. Committee for Legalized Gambling. "The people have spoken. The bill has been tailored to what the people said."

On the statehood question, many politicians and political observers say that the appearance of unanimity could create enough momentum to carry the proposal to victory in November in every area of the city except Ward 3, the mostly white and affluent section of the District west of Rock Creek Park.

This assertion rests largely on the contention that on its face, the statehood initiative has emerged for many voters as a more attractive alternative path to self-government than the voting rights amendment now stalled in its bid for approval by 38 state legislatures.

Winning in Ward 3 is crucial, however, because voter turnout in the ward is traditionally among the highest in the city. City Council member Polly Shackleton, the veteran Democrat who represents the area, said she prefers the voting rights bill to the statehood referendum, and some statehood supporters, mindful of past elections, fear that "as Polly goes, so goes Ward 3."

Shackleton is only part of the problem. The Republican Party is one of the few major political organizations in the District that has not endorsed the statehood measure -- the party has taken no position -- and almost half of the city's registered Republicans live in Ward 3.

And according to Edward Guinan, director of the D.C. Statehood Committee, the single largest group in the city that has the most to lose from statehood and increased local control -- the business community, the realtors and the developers -- are well represented in the Republican Party and Ward 3.

"We don't expect to carry the Republican precincts in Ward 3," Guinan said. "We don't expect to carry the very established affluent to any degree. They do very well the way things are. But wardwide, I think we'll carry (Ward 3)."

The statehood measure's only organized vocal opposition so far has come from Del. Walter E. Fauntroy (D-D.C.), who has sent out letters to constituents warning them that passage of the bill could interrupt ratification of the voting rights bill. Fauntroy has also been appearing at debates, and is organizing his own forum for later this month.

The statehood committee has spent about $16,000 so far, $6,000 of that to collect signatures and pay court costs to get the measure placed on the ballot. cThe campaign has concentrated on the printing of literature, citywide leaflet distribution, putting up red-and-white posters on buses and lightposts around the city, and campaign buttons. The committee also has several 30-second radio advertisements in reserve for the last week before the election.

Some council members are more enthusiastic about statehood than others. At-large member Hilda Mason, the only member of the politically waning D.C. Statehood Party on the council, is actively campaigning on the measure's behalf.

The party is running several candidates for office, but that is aimed largely at obtaining 1 percent of the citywide vote -- enough to keep its status as an officially recognized party incity politics. But the statehood referendum effort is a broader, nonpartisan drive with the Statehood Party as only one player.

Meanwhile, the legalized gambling referendum is being met with wide-spread silence from many of the same politicians and special interest groups vocally involved in the statehood contest.

For instance, the Greater Washington Central Labor Council AFL-CIO, which has endorsed statehood, has taken no position on gambling. "We're staying away from that one," said Joslyn Williams, head of that union's political arm.

Similarly, the Gay Activists Alliance has decided that gambling is not an issue of gay interest. Mayor Marion Barry has not taken a position. Council member Wilhelmina Rolark (D-Ward 8) -- who opposed the last gambling initiative only to have it pass in her ward -- has decided to stay silent on this one. U.S. Attorney Charles F. C. Ruff, whose opposition to the last initiative helped defeat the measure, said he has no comment on this gambling proposal.

Ron Cocome, coordinator of the gambling committee, said, "It isn't a very high priority issue in people's minds. It's not a very exciting issue. The statehood thing sounds sexier and it's more exciting. But when you stop to think about which has more impact on the city, gambling has an immediate impact."

Gambling proponents contend that the cash-pinched city government could raise at least $36 million -- and perhaps as much as $55 million -- if their plan to have a city-run lottery and daily numbers game is approved. "The alternatives are very grim," Cocome said. "The alternatives are some very serious tax raises."

A group of ministers who claim credit for defeating the last gambling initiative, is again leading opposition to the gaming measure. They contend that if gambling, which they consider morally wrong, is legalized in Washington, it will hurt the poor most.

Cocome criticized City Council members for staying out of the fray on gambling. "If the Council had done their job, we wouldn't have had to go out on the streets collecting signatures. When something is controversial, they duck it. They would be for it if they were citizens, but they want to be council members so much they don't want to risk the wrath."