It might, just might, be legal to conduct some forms of gambling in the District of Columbia right now. Then again, it might not. But even if it is legal, it's impossible.
That set of contridictions serves to illustrate the byzantine web of relationships between the District government and Capitol Hill. It all adds up to a true-or-false test in which the answers have been thoroughly scrambled.
The confusion began on Nov. 4, when D.C. voters took what then appeared to be perfectly straightforward actions -- approving citizen initiatives setting the District on a course that could eventually lead to statehood, and legalizing bingo, raffles and a city-run lottery and numbers game.
True or False: The city's home rule charter provides that all city-approved legislation must clear a 30-day review period by Congress. So, 30 days after the measures were officially submitted on Nov. 21, they became law.
Answer: Quite false in the case of the statehood measure, but only half-false as far as the gambling unitiative is concerned.
The statehood measure clearly had to pass a review period of 30 legislative days on Capitol Hill, not merely 30 calendar days, according to Lawrence H. Mirel, general counsel to the City Council. A legislative day is a day when the Senate or the House is in session.
Since legislative days were scarce in the final lame-duck days of the last Congress, numbering nowhere near the required 30, the statehood initiative clearly is not yet law. The city resubmitted it to Congress Friday, Mirel said.
In the case of gambling, however, there is a question -- "an interesting, but primarily academic question," according th Mirel.
The city's home rule charter provides that measures concerning the city's criminal code are subject to a simple 30-calendar-day review after all, while other measures must wait 30 legislative days.
"The gambling initiative is partially concerned with the criminal code, since the parts allowing bingo and raffles are legalizing things that were previously illegal." said Mirel.
True or False: Since 30 calendar days have passed, it is now legal, as the gambling initiative allows, for charitable institutions to run bingo games and raffles.
Answer: Not so fast.
"The question is academic, because nobody can gamble at all unless they get a license from the gambling board," Mirel pointed out. "And the gaming board doesn't exist."
The gambling measure provides for the formation of a District of Columbia Lottery and Charitible Games Control Board, whose five members would be nominated by the mayor and confirmed by the City Council.
But the portion of the initiative establishing the board -- which will be the only entity allowed to license operators of gambling operations -- clearly has nothing to do with the criminal code, Mirel said. So the board cannot be established until a full 30-legislative-day congressional review has passed. b
"Even if it's legal, nobody can gamble unless they have a license, and the gaming board cannot yet exist," said Mirel. "So, there's no gambling." The gambling initiative was also resubmitted to Congress Friday.
True or False: Neither measure can take effect, then, until 30 legislative days from Friday, when both were resubmitted.
Answer: "Now that's a very interesting question," Mirel said. "Very interesting."
Mirel contends the charter provides that the "six or seven, I'm not quite sure how many" legislative days that expired before the old Congress adjourned should be counted toward the total.
Confused Capitol Hill staffs, many of their files in boxes to make room for the incoming Republican wave, were unable to reach agreement yesterday on just how many legislative days had expired between Nov. 21 and adjournment. o
But in any event, according to Mirel, both the statehood and gambling measures will take effect inside of a month -- a legislative month, that is.
"But a lot of people on the Hill don't agree with me," Mirel signed."They think we have to start counting all over."
Which would mean a full 30 legislative days. Period. End of test.
Unless, of course, Congress kills either measure. Such action is not anticipated at the District Building, but . . .