SEN. MARK O. HATFIELD (R-Ore.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, has introduced a resolution asking Congress to veto a District initiative to make non-profit bingo games, raffles and a lottery legal in the District. The senator is one of the several legislators who say they oppose the gambling measure on moral grounds and question whether legal gambling is in the best interest of the nation's capital. But there is no clear federal interest in whether the local government here has a legal lottery. The impact of the lottery is of importance to local residents, who once voted down the idea, but now have decided -- by a majority vote -- to authorize a limited version of legalized gambling.
The Oregon senator is not alone in his opposition. Sen. Charles Mathias of Maryland, chairman of the Senate's Government Affairs Committee's subcommitee on the District, has said he too is opposed to legalized bingo and a lottery in the city. Sen. Mathias has also been heavily lobbied by groups of Maryland politicians and businessmen who point out that Maryland will lose about $30 million per year in lottery revenues if there is a legal lottery in the District competing with the Maryland lottery.
Many cynics say Congress never did surrender complete control of the District to the people who live and work here. A veto of the gambling initiative would give those cynics some ground to stand on and, more important, damage the current positive movement toward full elected and representative government for the city.
It would be the first congressional act since home rule in 1974 to override the will of the people of the District on an issue that has no direct effect on the affairs of the federal government. Unlike the Chancery Act, which restricted the location of the embassy offices, that was passed by the city council and overridden by Congress in 1979, the gambling initiative will not affect the federal government's ability to function here or abroad. The argument that the nation's capital should not have gambling for moral reasons also falls short of being convincing. Other world capitals, not to mention many states, have lotteries. The voice of the District voters should be respected.