While District officials were struggling with the city finances last week, proponents of legalized gambling were offering some imaginative revenue producing ideas.
"Why not license the neighborhood numbers runners?" they asked. "Or supervise privately run jaialai and dog track racing games? How about leasing pinball machines that operate like slot machines?" A percentage from these operations, the proponents said, could add millions of dollars to the city's treasury.
These visions of easy money for the city were offered during a hearing of the Regulation and Operation Committee of the city's Gambling Study Commission. The commission was set up by the City Council last December to investigate the social and economic feasibility of legalized gambling in the District.
The regulation committee, one of the commission's six units, is charged with studying the merits of private and public methods of government control over gambling.
"We can't say we're going to advocate any type of gambling," said committee chairman Brant Coopersmith, "but it does look as though there's some optimism about legalizing bingo, raffles and things like that, and perhaps a lottery to generate revenue.
"Our licensed businesses are hurting, particularly those adjacent to the Maryland state line," said Coopersmith. "There are many grocery stores in Maryland where people go to play the lottery and buy groceries."
Stanley Fine, director of Maryland's state lottery agency, testified during the hearing that the state netted $59 million in revenue in 1976-77 on its daily numbers game.
Coopersmith said the city commission believes some of that money will come into the District if a lottery is instituted here.
"The facts from the economic committee showed whatever we get, a large portion will come from non-residents of the District. This city has more people coming into it than other cities," he said.
District lawyers Martin E. Firestone and Richard K. Lyon proposed that the city supervise a privately run jai alai operation and identified a market area that stretched from Baltimore to Richmond.
Estimated revenue to the city could average between $2.67 and $4.75 million a year, they said.
Inventor Fred Weatherford of Hyattsville, Md., introduced an electronic pinball machine that operates on a principle similar to a slot machine. He said it could bring the city $750 million in revenue a year.
While Coopersmith acknowledged some of the suggestions to be practical, he said, "The only thing we know is profitable is the numbers game."
Real estate broker Orion Whiting of Hamlin Street NE had the answer for that: legalize neighborhood bookies and allow them to operate under government supervision, he said. As the committee unsuccessfully pursued a "guesstimate" of how much revenue this could produce, Coopersmith turned to the moral aspects of the suggestion.
"Have you heard of anybody who ruined their families by playing numbers?" he asked.
"No sir," said Whiting. "The so-called gambler has been maligned and the numbers game has been maligned. You've never seen a death certificate saying that a man dropped dead or committed suicide because of gambling."
In other testimony, Herbert Harris, past president of the Ledroit Civic Association, vehemently opposed crap games, poker and blackjack, saying "it would lead to racketeering in gambling and take you down the river for a crap game and bring you back in a police wagon."
F.A. Geigher, athletic director at the University of Pennsylvania, and John Thompson, Georgetown University basketball coach, both pleaded to protect the nation's youth by prohibiting any form of gambling on amateur, high school and collegiate sports. Geigher said 20-year-olds would be confused as to the legality and morality of yielding to pressures from gamblers. Geigher is also chairman of the National Collegiate Athletic Association Commission on Government Affairs.
"I get information from Las Vegas on my team now that I didn't even know about," said Thompson.
William Curry, chairman of the committee of 100 ministers, asked that all gambling operations be closed to persons under 20, that the operations be self-financing and that 2 1/2 per cent of all profits be contributed to mental health agencies offering help to the compulsive gambler.
Testimony before the Revenue Use Committee is scheduled to be presented at the District Building At 7 p.m. today. Committees investigating the moral and religious issues, community response to gambling, and state and federal gambling statutes will be heard in the coming months.
The commission is expected to make a decision about legalized gambling in the District by the end of the year.