Bad Gamble for D.C.

August 24, 1993

Casinos in the District of Columbia? Look at the message it would send around the world from our nation's capital: A jurisdiction so bereft of legitimate ways to raise money and balance its budget that it must prop itself up by enticing gamblers to the craps, roulette and blackjack tables.

Bringing wide-open, legalized casino gambling to the district would be tantamount to admitting Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly's administration is bankrupt of legitimate ideas on how to make ends meet. The district is once again deep in debt, neither the mayor nor the City Council is willing to cut the bureaucracy or shrink the size of government and no politician has the courage to raise taxes. They're looking for the easy way out, without political pain. Casinos seem like the ideal solution.

That's a cruel illusion. Given the district's serious crime problem, casino gambling would only invite more criminal types to prey on casino-goers. It would be an ideal situation for organized crime elements, too. Just look at Atlantic City, N.J., where the Mafia homed in on casino-related unions and street crime is rampant.

Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer, a booster of expanded lottery activities, is adamantly opposed to casino operations. That is a wise position. A D.C. casino poses a threat to Maryland's horse-racing industry -- a $1 billion a year economic factor. Casinos would be an unhealthy development, one that Maryland's congressional delegation should aggressively oppose.

The good news is the Kelly administration needs the approval of Congress. That could be difficult. The mayor's aides say the idea is to help balance the city budget and provide revenue for a new $500 million mega-convention center. But there are other ways to accomplish these goals, ways that don't corrupt the community or give citizens the impression that government's problems can be solved by discovering a magical pot of gold.

This game is rigged. The district's citizens would be the ultimate losers. If the Kelly administration can't get its house in order without turning to casinos for revenue, it doesn't deserve another term. Instead of searching for panaceas, the mayor ought to be concentrating on the hard political tasks of shrinking government and forming public-private partnerships to underwrite such ventures as a convention center. D.C. voters elected her to be their political leader, not the head croupier.

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