WITH A PETITION campaign soon to begin for an initiative vote on bringing legal gambling to the District, it is time to look closely at the plan that the D.C. Committee for Legalized Gambling means to offer the city's voters next May.

There would be a daily lottery -- with a payoff probably topping the $500 that the winning $1 better now gets in the Maryland lottery -- and perhaps a weekly, a monthly and an annual lottery. Lack of space in the city precludes a race track, and off-track betting is ruled out by the certain refusal of the nearby Maryland tracks to surrender their District patronage. But there could be betting either on dog races, at a place like the D.C. Armory, or on jai alai. To prevent undue enticements to the poor, there would be no casino or slot-machine games; and to keep taint and temptation away from sports, professional and amateur, there would be no gambling on the Bullets or Redskins. But you could bet at a private gambling game so long as no one was acting as the "house" and taking a cut from each pot, and you could play bingo.

Ad.c gAming Control Board would make the rules for gambling operations and administer the profits the city would expect to make. These earnings would go to special education programs, charitable groups and programs created but not funded by the city council. The latter practice would let the city go ahead with innovative programs that Congress might otherwise find too controversial.

Some District religious leaders have been properly concerned that legalized gambling would increase gambling in the city, especially among poor people. But legal gambling is already available to Washingtonians at Maryland stores at the District line that sell lottery tickets. Illegal gambling is available at corner candy stores; District police don't pay much attention as long as it doesn't violate the three Cs -- not Conspicuous, not Commercial and no one Complains. The evidence is that there are already enough willing bettors here to make the city's own lottery a success.

The picture of future gambling offered by the D.C. Committee for legalized Gambling is not an unhealthy one. It reasonably accomodates the demonstratable presence and popularity of local gambling, and harnesses it for the city's gain, without making Washington Sin City. It does not threaten the purity of shcoolboy sports or invite corruption into pro sports or open the city to gangster figures interested in casino or slot-machine operations. The example of Maryland, Massachusetts and New York show that legal lotteries can be operated without corruption. In sum, legalized gambling, in its limited and controlled form, is better than what the city has now.