A majority of the D.C. Council signed a resolution yesterday opposing slot machines in the nation's capital and vowed to campaign against a gambling initiative if it qualifies for a spot on the Nov. 2 ballot.
Eight of the council's 13 members -- including Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) -- signed a resolution stating that the introduction of slot machines, formally known as video lottery terminals, "will worsen the District's struggles with crime, poverty, and addiction."
The resolution says the campaign to bring slots to the District has been "tainted" by "several serious allegations of impropriety and violation of District election laws, eroding the confidence of the council and the public that the proposed initiative will appear on the ballot as the result of a fair process."
"The District of Columbia would be worse off with thousands of video lottery terminals than it is without them," the resolution concludes. If the matter is placed on the ballot, "the council urges the voters of the District of Columbia to reject it."
The initiative seeks to authorize installation of 3,500 slot machines on a 14-acre site in Northeast Washington at New York Avenue and Bladensburg Road.
The resolution marks the second blow in two days to slots supporters from the political establishment. Two influential members of the House predicted Monday that Congress would halt any attempt to bring slot machines to the District if voters approve the plan.
In a telephone interview, Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), who was in Houston to attend the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, said District voters should have the final say. "I don't think the Congress should stand in the way of the voters on this," Williams said. "I don't support gambling, but I don't agree that the voters should not have a choice here. And I think it is important for the council to make its views known, as I have done."
The council did not vote on the resolution because it was not officially listed on yesterday's council agenda. If the resolution passes when the council returns from summer break Sept. 15, it would have no force of law, but would state the "sense of the council" regarding the initiative.
Council member Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4), the resolution's author, said it "sends a signal that there are eight council members who are against slots" and likely would vote to change or repeal the initiative if it wins voters' support.
"I think the council will definitely reverse it, if it comes to that," Fenty said. "But from what I'm hearing in the community, I don't think it will come to that. There's just overwhelming opposition."
Cropp said she plans to campaign against the slots initiative because she fears gambling would be "counterproductive" to the District's reputation as a "family tourist town."
In addition to Fenty and Cropp, the resolution was signed by At-Large members David A. Catania (R), Carol Schwartz (R) and Phil Mendelson (D), as well as Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) and Kevin P. Chavous (D-Ward 7).
According to a report filed Monday with the Office of Campaign Finance, former council member John Ray, chief lobbyist and general counsel for the slots initiative, has met with at least nine council members or their aides since late April, when the initiative was filed with the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics.
Council member Vincent B. Orange Sr. (D-Ward 5), whose district would host the gambling emporium, met with or spoke to Ray eight times, according to the report. Orange, who is out of town and did not sign the resolution, has taken no position on the initiative.
In response to the vote, Ray said, "Well, it's an election year, and they passed their July sense-of-the-council [resolution]. In November, you'll have the voters' sense."
If approved by voters, the initiative would grant an exclusive 10-year license to operate a gambling establishment to the owners of the New York Avenue site. D.C. businessman Pedro Alfonso and Virgin Islands financier Rob Newell are proposing to build a $510 million entertainment complex on the property. They say the slots alone would generate $765 million a year in revenue, a quarter of which -- $190 million -- would be given to the District government.
Staff writers Sewell Chan and Debbi Wilgoren contributed to this report.