Washington's business community, which was among the biggest political contributors in the city's 1978 mayoral contest, has sat out the more controversial campaign leading to tomorrow's referendum on whether to legalize several types of gambling in the nation's capital.
Some individual District investors who want to introduce the Spanish sport of jai alai here have helped finance Washington Jai Alai's donations toward the pro-gram-bling effort, and retail liquor dealers, who want daily numbers ticket outlets in their stores, have pitched in $5,000. The shannon & Luchs realty firm has donated $100 to the anti-gambling campaign.
But that's it.
Taking sides on the gambling referendum, which, if approved, would legalize daily numbers and lottery games and parimutuel wagering on jai alai and dog racing, is a "can't win" situation for the business community, says R. Robert Linowes, a leading zoning attorney and former president of the Greater Washington Board of Trade.
As a result, he said, "There's a certain amount of ambivalence in the business community."
John r. Tydings, executive vice president of the Board of Trade, said that business leaders in the city have been "so occupied with other major issues," such as the workmen's compensation measure before the D.C. City Council, that gambling is "not a priority of ours at the moment."
The business community's apparent absence from the referendum campaign notwithstanding, legalized gambling would likely have a substantial impact on the economic life of Washington if it is approved.
For one thing, the city, already a major tourist draw because it's the national capital, could have two new major attractions --dog racing and fast-paced jai alai, two sports that do not now exist in the mid-Atlantic region.
No one knows for sure how popular the two sports would be here. But Brant Coopersmith, chairman of the umbrella group supporting legalized gambling, sees dog racing and jai alai as a major tourist lure.
"When the people come here for a convention," Coopersmith said, "they go out and have a good dinner and then what do you do? I think jai and dog racing will mean a lot for tourists" to have something extra to do at night. Whether jai alai and dog racing would generate other developments -- such as a hotel near an arena or track -- is doubtful at best, however.
Opponents of gambling have argued that Washington doesn't need gambling as a tourist attraction.
Foster Shannon, president of the large Shannon & Luchs realty firm, maintains that gambling is "not the reason people come to Washington and there's no reason to make it the reason."
"I'm opposed to open gambling in Washington like in Las Vegas," he said.
While the referendum would not legalize casinos, Shannon and other gambling opponents think that passage of the 43-page gambling law under consideration tomorrow would be a step in that direction.
Coopersmith said that no one on the D.C. Gambling Study Commission, a citizen panel that studied and then recommended legalized gambling here, ever proposed legalization of casinos. He said that he does not foresee casinos ever opening in Washington and that it would take a new referendum or a vote by the City Council to legalize them.
The gambling referendum proposes legalization of city-operated numbers and periodic lottery games; commercially-operated jai alai and dog racing; bingo and raffles by charitable and civic groups; and wagering among individuals, such as private poker games, if the organizer gets no profits.
Aside from possibly luring more tourists to the city, legalized gambling could provide more jobs. But just how many is a matter of some dispute among supporters and opponents of the measure.
Wesley Long, a D.C. Public Service Commissioner and treasurer of the pro-gambling committee, has predicted that about 500 new jobs would be created with the advent of gambling, but a gambling opponent City Councilman John Ray (D-At large), said he doubts the figure would be more than 200.
Long's prediction is based on the assumption that jai alai and dog racing in particular would need small armies of officials, ticket takers, concessionaries and parking attendants and that some people would be hired to sell daily numbers and lottery tickets.
Ray contends that jai alai and dog-racing companies would largely bring in their own experienced officials to run operations here, leaving only low-paying, relatively unskilled jobs for those hired from the District.
Whatever the arguments over the number of tourists gambling would lure or the number of jobs it would provide, liquor dealers remain convinced that gambling would be good for their businesses.
The city's 340 liquor store owners have long complained that a good part of their business has drifted to Maryland stores ever since Maryland started its popular daily numbers game in mid-1976. Some Maryland liquor dealers operating just across the District line have said that their business increased by 20 percent when they started selling numbers tickets. They also get a 5 percent commission on the value of every ticket they sell.
There is evidence to support the District dealers' contention that liquor sales are dropping fast in the city, since city alcohol tax revenues have plummeted from $13 million to $8 million in the past seven years.
But Mark Gripentrog, a financial economist for the city's Department of Finance and Revenue, said that the Maryland lottery has probably only caused part of that revenue decline. The city reduced the liquor tax in 1978 from $2 a gallon to $1.50, the city's population has been declining and drinkers' tastes have changed over the last few years from stronger wines and hard liquors, which carry a higher tax, to lighter wines, which are taxed at a lower rate.
"All we want to is to equalize, to get our business back," says Robert (Buddy) Weitzman, president of the District liquor dealers' group. CAPTION: Pictures 1 through 4, no caption, Gambling photographs by John Burwell for The Washington Post; Chart, Collection, Revenues Gaming Types, by State STATE PARIMUTUEL COLLECTIONS fiscal Year 1979 (prelim.)