Officials Laud D.C. Lottery as Success

By Yolanda Woodlee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 26, 2007

Christopher Snipes didn't really believe he would win the D.C. Lottery when a store owner persuaded him to plop down $1 to buy a scratch ticket on the first day of the game in August 1982.

But seconds later, as the Metrobus driver finished scratching off the third $10,000 spot, he asked: "Don't three of a kind win?"

As the game's first $10,000 winner in the District, he was an instant celebrity and an immediate convert.

"It was great," Snipes, 66, recalled last week. "You would have thought I won a million dollars."

Like Snipes, Nadine P. Winter, then a member of the D.C. Council, needed convincing. She feared low-income District residents would squander their rent and grocery money on the chance to win fast cash.

But looking at the city's cash-strapped budget, Winter figured the lottery was a chance worth taking.

"I had been very vocal until it got down to the vote," said Winter, who later served on the lottery board. "I began to look at the budget. There were so many general needs at that time."

As the D.C. Lottery celebrates its 25th anniversary, city officials still marvel at its fiscal impact. While it has created 42 millionaires, the city has won on its wager, too. More than $1.4 billion has been transferred to the treasury since 1982, when after one month, lottery profits totaled $4.2 million. Since 2003, more than $70 million has moved to the general fund every year.

"The lottery has contributed a lot financially to the city," Winter, 82, said in a recent interview. "I don't think anybody was sure how much money it would bring."

City officials now acknowledge that they rely on the lottery to help finance the city's $5.2 billion local budget.

"The money is critical," said Natwar M. Gandhi, the city's chief financial officer. His office gained control of the lottery in the mid-1990s after the five-member lottery board's management was questioned. If the lottery were stopped tomorrow, "we would have to scramble to find $70 million. . . . There would be a hole in the general fund."

Ed Lazere, executive director of the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, which analyzes District tax and budget issues, said it may be "dumped into the general fund, but the yield from the lottery is about equal to the District's budget for the University of the District of Columbia or its employment services agency or its juvenile justice agency."

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