The voters of the District should reject the proposal to legalize gambling because it will place a heavy burden on the poor, the elderly and minorities who are least able to afford its costs.
In Maryland, we have seen the state lottery take millions of dollars from low-income black families while returning little of any so-called "gambling profits" to their neighborhoods in the form of needed public services, civic improvements or other benefits.
Initiative 2, which will appear on the District ballot May 6, is being presented in a misleading manner as a needed revenue-raising measure to assist the hardpressed District treasury in these times of economic distress. Actually, the proceeds from the various gambling activities proposed will not go directly into the D.C. Treasury. Instead, they will be deposited into a special gaming fund to be spent by a powerful new Gaming Control Board, whose members cannot be removed.
First call on monies raised by gaming activities will pay the expenses of the board and its staff. The executive director will get at least $47,000 a year; the chairman, $18,000; the four other board members, $15,000. Then, other costs including prizes will come out of the fund. If any money is left over, it can be used for non-profit, educational or other public purposes designated by the board.
A vote for Initiative 2 will automatically authorize the gaming board to establish a wide variety of gaming enterprises and set up its own rules for these new games of chance. Its powers will include doing whatever is "reasonably" necessary to get the games under way and to monitor and control their operations. It would have the same independent budget authority as the school board and the Superior Court. Power to condemn private land holdings for dog tracks and jai alai frontons appears implicit in the board grant of powers to the gaming board.
In effect, Initiative 2 invites the voters to set up a separate powerful government within a government with complete and virtually unchallengeable control over its activities. Yet the initiative does not include provisions for permanently revoking licenses and only a $1,000 limit is set on fines imposed for violatons of board rules. Everyone knows that a $1,000 fine is an ineffective deterrent to an affluent operator.
Actually, the initiative is a proposal to railroad legalized gambling into effect without giving the elected mayor and elected council a chance to pass on its merits or control its impact. The unseemly haste and pressure for passage should give pause even to avowed gambling enthusiasts, who should ask what is in the 43-page package they are being asked to accept on a "take it or leave it" basis.
In all candor, I am opposed to gambling on moral grounds. I would have strong doubts even about a limited and carefully drawn bill with sufficient controls and adequate protections of the integrity of governmental processes. In my view, it is not fitting for the capital of our nation to become America's gambling capital.
To ignore the moral and religious aspects of gambling, legal or illegal, is a mistake. It is impossible to divorce morality and religion from life. The immoral influence of the legalization of gambling upon our children is certain to be evidenced in the destruction of the work ethic and creative instinct. Young people will be encouraged to invest their money on the big or small "chance." Young people who get the slightest "taste" of winning by gambling become lazy, scheming, isensitive, deceptive, defensive, suspicious and superstitious.
Initiative 2 is touted as a revenue raising measure. Yet, gambling, legal or illegal, does not produce new revenues. It thrives on money that residents already have or find ways to get. Sponsors say that the government stands to get $35 million or $40 million from legalized gambling. Even if that happened, there would be no assurance that the funds would go where they are sorely needed.
Apparently, sponsors of the initiative believe that there is a great deal of "loose" money around that will pour into the public coffers once the gaming halls are opened. It is truly questionable whether such "free" money exists. Instead, legalized gambling will bring in its wake deprivation and hardship, exploitation and even crime. There is no free lunch anymore.
Serious questions should be asked about the sources of the drive to legalize gambling in this city. Who are the real sponsors? What do they expect to get out of it? Who will get the jobs and who will get the big returns? New Jersey, for example, experienced a large influx of experienced gambling operators from other states. The really big winners appear to have been those who were rich enough and venturesome enough to buy stocks in the gambling casinos and hotel and entertainment enterprises. There is no requirement in the 43-page document that such stock-holders be local residents.
As written, Initiative 2 provides no assurance that it will help balance the District budget and fund needed public services. On the contrary, its costs are likely to unbalance the city's budget, leaving the mayor and council powerless to do anything about it.