At today’s meeting of the D.C. Board of Election and Ethics, a board attorney announced that promoters hoping to place as many at 3,500 slot machines in Anacostia had withdrawn their ballot initiatives.

The gambling facility, proposed for the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and Good Hope Road SE, is the brainchild of Shawn A. Scott, a reclusive businessman based in the U.S. Virgin Islands who was behind a 2004 effort to build a slots development at New York Avenue and Bladensburg Road NE. The BOEE approved that initiative’s language, only to find massive problems with the petitions that slots supporters circulated to get it on the ballot; it levied the largest fine in its history against the slots backers.

Yesterday the D.C. Council’s General Counsel, Charlotte Brookins-Hudson, sent a letter to the BOEE that pointed out a few problems with the two versions of ballot initiatives that had been submitted. (One proposal gives the Anacostia facility an exclusive window; the other allows other sites from different promoters.)

There’s a few things that you can’t do by ballot initiative in the District, and the slots proposals did three of them:

  • They raise money for the city. Both initiatives would have pumped 25 percent of the net revenues from each slot machine into city coffers. Under the Home Rule Act, only the D.C. Council can collect funds for the city.
  • Both say that other slots sites can be approved only by a two-thirds D.C. Council vote. The Home Rule Act specifies a two-thirds vote only for emergency matters.
  • One proposal chooses a specific site, overriding the city’s Zoning Commission and Board of Zoning Appeals, which have the exclusive right to approve city land use. Even the Council can’t demand a specific site. “They cannot do what the Council itself cannot do,” Brookins-Hudson says.

BOEE General Counsel Kenneth McGhie announced the voluntary withdrawal at the beginning of the meeting. He read from a letter from slots lawyers explaining that the withdrawal was based on Brookins-Hudson’s concerns.

No member of the slots group spoke at the meeting. The group could redraft the initiative language and resubmit it to the board. If the board approved new language, the slots supporters could begin circulating petitions to get the initiative on this fall’s ballot.

Additional reporting by Mike DeBonis