WASHINGTON, D.C. – The proposed initiative to bring video lottery terminals (VLT) to the poorest section of the nation’s capital was met with a swift response of, “No way!”
“It’s terrible,” Norma Perry told The Final Call. She’s lived in Ward 8 for most of her life and is dead set against the initiative.
“We don’t need casinos here. There’s already enough crime and problems here. Why don’t they make an initiative to clean up this part of town? We’re against this. They don’t ask the young what they want but I’m letting them know.”
Citizens for the VLT Initiative of 2006 (“Committee”), which is headed by Barry E. Jerrels, are proposing that it be brought before the voters of D.C. on the November Ballot.
If passed, the initiative would, “expand the lottery by allowing ‘Video Lottery Terminals,’ which are very similar to slot machines in the District of Columbia, and establish the initial VLT facility at a small site in the Anacostia section of Ward 8 targeted for redevelopment.”
The initiative was taken by the committee to the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics in April and the board voted May 3, to place it on the November ballot.
D.C. Watch Executive Director Dorothy Brizille, community member Thelma Jones and Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner, 8A Chairman, Anthony Muhammad, swiftly filed a petition in Superior Court blocking the initiative.
Their petition read, “The Board of Elections and Ethics should have found that the ‘Video Lottery Terminal Gambling Initiative of 2006’ was not a proper subject for a voter initiative under District law because the initiative (a) seeks to amend or overturn a federal law, which is contrary both to the Home Rule Act and the U.S. Constitution; (b) requires the appropriation of funds; and (c) seeks to exercise mayoral authority, which violates the Home Rule Act.
“They want to sneak this on the ballot and we’re going to fight this,” explained Mr. Muhammad to The Final Call. “These slot machines would have a devastating affect on an already devastated community.”
“We have the highest infant mortality rate, the highest HIV rates, the highest unemployment rates and the highest homeless rates to name a few. Everything negative we lead the city and now they want us to have slot machines like casinos. We don’t want the additional crime that comes with gambling.”
The connection between crime and casinos has been well established.
Researcher Earl L. Grinols wrote for the Institute of Government and Public Affairs Policy Forum in 2000 that, “Evidence is converging to show that casino gambling causes significant increases in crime. Taken altogether, casinos impose crime and other costs–paid for by society, including those who do not gamble–that exceed their benefits and represent substantial burdens on nearby populations.”
“Because casino gambling fails a cost-benefit test, policymakers should give serious consideration to options that include imposing taxes equal to the costs casinos impose, restricting casino expansion, or banning casino gambling altogether.”
According to the proposed initiative, the VLTs are a means to, “create more jobs to address unemployment and to generate additional revenue to address areas of special concern to the residents of D.C. The areas of special concern are programs to benefit D.C. public schools and programs to aid D.C. senior citizens.”
Further, “The District would be best served if the needed revenue were generated by a new, self sustaining program rather than through the imposition of additional taxes or fees on the incomes of D.C. residents and D.C. businesses.”
It may mean more income for schools and senior citizens like Ms. Perry, but for her, it just means more crime.
“The store where they want to place these things needs to be closed anyway. You can’t get in without turning sideways and you can’t get out without turning again because every child in the area is standing in front of the store.”
“The place is dirty and filthy. Slot machines will just make it worse.”
What happens next is up to the D.C. Board of Elections. Will the initiative be placed on November’s ballot?
“Not if we have anything to do with it,” said Mr. Muhammad. “We’re fighting this battle to the end.”