Sept. 29, 2004 — The District of Columbia Court of Appeals yesterday effectively killed for at least two years an attempt by Virgin Islands financial interests to open a 3,500 video lottery terminal complex in a depressed part of the nation's capital.
The effort to bring the slot-machine-like VLTs to the nation's capital had been spearheaded by Rob Newell, a St. Croix resident, his company, North Atlantic Investments LLC, and its financial backer, Bridge Capital, of which he is the chief executive officer. The plan involved filing a petition for a local referendum that would have permitted the building of the complex and would have set up what critics regarded as a very loose regulatory scheme for the enterprise there are no slots or VLTs in Washington now, and no system for regulating them.
Shawn Scott, a gambling promoter who has lost numerous efforts to secure gambling licenses on the Mainland, was also involved in the effort.
The DC court ruled, in effect, in favor of how another Virgin Islander regarded the controversy; it confirmed a decision to bar the referendum that had been made by the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics that is chaired by Wilma Lewis, a native St. Thomian. A lawyer, she had previously served as Inspector General of the Department of Interior and as U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia during the Clinton Administration.
Lewis and her colleagues had ruled that there was sufficient evidence of forgery, fraud and other election laws violations to throw out the petitions that had been filed, quite hurriedly, by the pro-slots people; the petition would have led to a referendum to be decided in the November election. (See "V.I. Figures Key in D.C. Ruling and VLT Initiative").
A substantial opposition movement against the slots proposals had been mounted by local activists; no major elected officials in the District supported the initiative. The opponents had argued that the VLTs would attract money from low-income D.C. residents who could ill-afford the inevitable gambling losses.
According to an article in the Washington Post Wednesday the proponents of the plan "said that they would not appeal the ruling because it is too late to win an appeal and campaign for the initiative." (See "Campaign For Slots In D.C. Crumbles").
The Post story continued: "Scott and Newell… have spent more than $1.2 million on the D.C. slots campaign, according to campaign finance records. Yesterday, Steve Silver, a lawyer who managers Scott's and Newell's business affairs in the Virgin Islands, said he had not seen the court's opinion."
Since the District holds elections only in even-numbered years, the next opportunity for a referendum would not come until 2006.
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