A group funded by an anonymous corporation registered in Delaware is pushing to legalize gambling in the District, by first creating a site in downtown Anacostia where people could play poker, blackjack and other card games and then by licensing other such facilities throughout the city.
Under the “Limited Gaming Initiative of 2016,” which would be placed on the D.C. ballot for voters to a approve or reject, three connected properties at the intersection of Martin Luther King, Jr Avenue and Good Hope Road Southeast in downtown Anacostia would be converted into a 9,000 square-foot “gaming facility” where people could play poker and blackjack. Gambling devices like slot machines would not be permitted.
The city would charge the operator a usage fee for the facility and the proceeds from that fee would be evenly split between D.C. Public Schools, the Housing Production Trust Fund – which helps create and preserve affordable housing – and the D.C. treasury. The city would also be allowed to license other similar gaming facilities.
Barry E. Jerrels, who is serving as the chairperson and treasurer of the Citizens Committee in Support of the Limited Gaming Initiative of 2016, says gambling in the city would help it compete with Maryland, where a new casino will soon open in Prince George’s County, and Virginally, which recently legalized betting on fantasy sports.
“It’s about job training, real jobs, new revenue for the city, [and an] elevated regulated gaming experience for visitors. Our goal is to target the visiting population of the District,” says Jerrels, a D.C. businessman and political activist.
That was much the same justification used in 2012, when the D.C. Council debated — but ultimately rejected — a bill that would have allowed Internet gambling at specific sites around the city.
Questions remain about the initiative’s backing
Initial funding to place the initiative on the ballot has come from a $5,500 contribution from Anacostia Redevelopment, a limited-liability corporation registered in Delaware. Jerrels offered no specifics on who’s running the show or who else would be contributing to their cause.
“There’s a consortium that’s ebbed and flowed,” says Jerrels.
The history of similar pushes for legalized gambling in the city might offer some clues, however.
In 2006, Jerrels was the point man for a similar ballot initiative bankrolled by gambling impresario Shawn A. Scott, who was then based in the U.S. Virgin Island. He tried to place a measure on the D.C ballot that would have allowed him to put video slot machines at the same location in Anacostia being offered up now.
Scott, who has been involved in gaming and casino projects across the country, had also tried to legalize gambling via a ballot initiative in 2004 – but he was slammed with a $600,000 fine for allegedly submitting thousands of fraudulent or forged signatures.
The ballot language Jerrels submitted in March, is in parts a virtual carbon copy from the 2006 effort, and the proposed site in Anacostia is owned by an LLC registered in Delaware but with its main address in the Northern Mariana Islands — where Scott operates Bridge Capital LLC, an investment firm.
Scott, who has been denied licenses in five states, has recently been linked to gambling and casino projects in Massachusetts and Maine. In Maine, he was involved in a petition drive for a referendum on a casino in the southern part of the state – but the effort fell apart this month amid the allegation of forged signatures on petitions.