Supporters of legalized gambling in the District have asked that gambling revenues be recycled into poor communities by using the revenues to fund non-profit agencies in low-in-come areas.
The request was made by representatives of nonprofit groups and District residents during last week's hearing before the Revenue Use Committee of the Gambling Study Commission. The commission is investigating the feasibility of legalized gambling in the District.
"Many people depend on gambling for a livelihood," said Calvin W. Rolark, president of the United Black Fund. "Why not tax them?" he asked.By legalizing gambling, Rolark said the city would give gamblers a chance to participate in a self-imposed tax system that would benefit them directly, through winnings, and indirectly through benefits provided by community agencies funded by revenues from a gambling tax.
Supporting Rolark's views was Frank H. Hollis, deputy director of the United Planning Organization. Hollis said another benefit of earmarking gambling revenue for non-profit groups is that federal regulations stipulate earmarked funds cannot be reapropriated.
Commission chairman Brant Coopersmith spoke of the relationship between the numbers games and blacks. Various studies have shown that legalized gambling in cities with large black populations are supported by black people, he said.
"We know if you have numbers legalized most of it will be paid for by people from low-income areas. we've got to see that most of that money gets back there," said Coopersmith.
Quoting Wesley Long, a Commerce Department economist on the commission, Coopersmith said the District could net some $38 million annually from gambling revenue.
"He (Long) sees this as a tax of people taxing themselves voluntarily," explained the chairman. "If we could take 50 per cent of the first $15 million and give that to nonprofit agencies that would provide 5 per cent of the city's budget to nonprofit agencies."
The 5 per cent would be in addition to funds already earmarked for the agencies, added Norval Perkins, executive director of the gambling commission staff. "The federal government requires that local jurisdictions must provide services at th same level before the grant, or a matching grant," he said. Therefore the D.C. government should not lower its funding to nonprofit groups because revenues from gambling are expected. A guarantee of continued funding could be provided by a statute in the District's gambling regulations, said Perkins.
"New Hampshire, the first state to legalize a lottery, required that all funds be earmarked for education," said Perkins.
Barbara Lett Simmons, an at-large member of the D.C. Board of Education, asked that gambling revenue be given to community groups providing directe educational services to enhance literacy and job skills in people of all ages. She also asked that arts and humanities programs be supported.
Harry N. Murray, a resident of North Michigan Park and vice chairman of the citizens advisory committee of the council of governments, advocated that funds be used for general services, such as schools, hospitals and housing. People help themselves by contributing to things they need and use, he said. "You say poor people gamble? Poor people use hospitals too," said Murray.
Kelvin Woodland, a community counselor at Kramer Junior High School, in southeast Washington, supported funding for community programs for youths. However, Woodland asked that less money be put in recreational facilities and more in community and penal education programs and summer jobs.
"Recreational complexes don't work," he said. "I would hate to see money allocated to recreation to fill administrators' pockets. "Youth will go into a $4 million recration complex for the air conditionig in the summer and the heat in the winter, only to go home to a shabby, rundown house or the Safeway to steal food just to get a decent meal. You have to change their environment," said Woodland. This could be done, he said, through supporting community service groups.