Protestant ministers and liquor store owners clashed to a standoff yesterday over the question of legalizing some forms of gambling in the District of Columbia.
Gambling, the Rev. Ernest Gibson told an informal D.C. City Council hearing, "further victimizes those who are already losers." Even considering "such a divisive and immoral issue" is wrong, said Gibson, who is pastor of the First Rising Mt. Zion Baptist Church, 1240 6th St. NW.
Liquor store owner Gary Mays testified that Washingtonians, frustrated by the lack of a legal lottery, already flock into Maryland to buy state lottery tickets.
Mays, proprietor of a store on Bowen Road SE and leader of a threeman delegation of liquor store owners said he lost 35 percent of his business volume when Maryland began its daily numbers game with tickets sold in Prince George's County liquor outlets.
A District-run lottery would restore business and bring income to the city government, he said. Sponsors have estimated the public take at $40 million a year or more.
Of about 100 people who braved frigid weather to attend the unusual Saturday hearing, Mays said 63 were friends and customers who attended at his suggestion.
After they left, the Rev. John G. Martin, pastor of Holy Comforter Baptist Church, 107 Victor St. NE, and an unsuccessful candidate for City Council chairman last year, said the delegation was made up of "those who want another drink."
About two-thirds of the 30 who testified were ministers. The session was called to hear testimony on whether the council should put an advisory referendum on the ballot of a special election May 1 asking whether a cityrun lottery, pari-mutuel betting and social and charitable gambling should be legalized.
The referendum proposal is sponsored by Council Chairman Arrington L. Dixon and council member David A. Clarke (D-Ward 1).
William R. Spaulding (D-Ward 5), the committee chairman, tried in vain to keep testimony on the question of holding an advisory referendum, but most witnesses -- especially those against it -- insisted on debating the issue of gambling itself.
At last count, a majority of the five-member committee, including Spaulding, had announced opposition to the referendum. Spaulding told a reporter after yesterday's session that he is still firmly opposed. The other previously announced opponents, Jerry A. Moore Jr. (R-At Large) and Nadine P. Winter (D-Ward 7), did not attend.
In addition to the liquor store owners, support for the referendum came from members of the Citizens Gambling Study Commission, which last year endorsed a city-run lottery and other forms of gambling, and by a biracial civic organization called VOICE.
VOICE (its initials stand for the Voice of Informed Community Expression) is a 150-member group of business and professional leaders formed after the 1968 riots as a self-proclaimed "silent majority" during a time of militant black activism. Its president, Richard K. Lyon, said the gambling referendum is a matter of home rule, not a question of morality.
The gambling commission's chief spokesman, Jerry Cooper, said "gambling is inevitable" and the people should have a chance to decide on legalizing it, permitting some profits to go to small businesses.
The lead-off witness against the gambling proposal was the Rev. Andrew Fowler, speaking for the Committee of 100 Ministers, a group that has firmly opposed all gambling proposals over the years.
He said that even considering a vote on gambling would be immoral. Under questioning, he criticized the council for not accompanying its proposal for a referendum with a statement of the evils of gambling and what he called the failure of legalized gambling in other states to meet financial expecations.
Franklin G. Kameny, who often speaks for homosexual rights, supported the gambling referendum saying it is a matter of "civil liberties, human rights and personal freedom."
Harry Murray, a retired postal employe and civic worker in Northeast Washington, got a ripple of applause when he criticized "rich ministers" who try to impose their wills on others.