On New Hampshire Avenue, across the District line in Prince George's County, a dense line of people snakes its way each afternoon between stacked bins of bananas and oranges toward the glass partition near the entrance of the Hampshire Open Air Market.
"Three dollars on the combination straight three-way," an elderly man directs the young clerk, as he slips her a wrinkled scrap of paper with the number he hopes will win him $500 in the Maryland Daily Lottery.
Thadeus Harrisberry -- juggling bags of groceries and pieces of paper, like most of the people crowded in line -- is one of many District residents who regularly drive to this corner produce market to place a bet with Lady Luck.
And, like many in the line, he says if District voters next Tuesday approve a gambling law -- which includes a provision for a city-run daily numbers game similar to the lottery in Maryland -- his jaunts across the border may end.
Instead, Harrisberry says, he will keep his business in his own stamping grounds.
"Why would I bother to waste all that gas and give money, which reduces taxes, to a state which is not my own?" asked Harrisberry. "Why, if I have to go around and pick up everyone I know to get them to go out and vote (for the referendum), I will. The District needs the lottery."
A younger man, in line farther up on New Hampshire Avenue at Maryland's most successful lottery outlet, Shop-Rite Liquors, agreed.
"They should have had a lottery in the District years ago," said Jake Baker, "and when they get it, I'm going to forget Maryland. I want my money to go to the District."
An unofficial, random survey conducted during the weekend at several lottery outlets near the District line in Prince George's and Montgomery counties revealed that Baker and Harrisberry are not alone in their willingness to abandon the Maryland lottery.
More than three-quarters of the approximately 60 people questioned said they were District residents and would play the D.C. lottery if it is legalized. Only about 30 percent said they would place bets in both jurisdictions.
If the answers reflect the attitude of most District residents who bet in the Maryland lottery, the state treasury and the Prince George's and Montgomery stores that receive a commission on the lottery tickets they sell can expect difficult times ahead.
According to Robert Rader, chief of the Maryland Board of Revenue Estimates, Prince George's and Montgomery countries together have 85 of the 100 top grossing lottery outlets in Maryland and accounted for 40 percent of the $333 million the state received from betting last year.
The Board of Revenue also estimates the equivalent of up to 20 percent -- of $60 million -- of the money wagered last year in the Maryland lottery may be lost annually if a District lottery is legalized.
Despite these grim warnings, store owners in the two counties revealed no panic. Several dismissed the notion a District lottery would hurt them.
The proprietors' views indicated mixed feelings: hope the D.C. referendum would not pass, resignation about the future if it did and optimism that customers would play in both jurisdictions.
"I don't even think it will pass," said Nate Gordon, the burly owner of the Hampshire Open Air Market, "and, even if it does, it's really immaterial because we survived before the lottery and we'll survive after it."
Although Gordon's lottery sales -- successful by most standards -- each year pull in more than $600,000, he insisted the lottery is only a small part of his sizable grocery business.
"It is not our lifeline," he said, throwing words over his shoulder, while nudging his way through aisles overflowing with frenized shoppers tossing apples at 29 cents a pound into their baskets.
Under the present Maryland formula, which awards each operator a commission of 5 percent of his total sales, Gordon's revenue from the lottery would be $30,000 annually.
While most store owners seconded Gordon's view that the presence of a District lottery would not mean doom for their business -- lottery or otherwise -- Stuart Gurewitz, operator of a Montgomery lottery that draws $16,000 in total sales, felt otherwise.
Gurewitz, owner of the popular Deli in the Rock Creek Shopping Center, believes there may be a measure of bravado in the optimism.
"The lottery has saved a lot of small businesses from going under," he said.
He said many store owners use the money for lottery sales during the week to pay their bills. By the time the state agent arrives at the end of the week, proprietors have accumulated enough money from nonlottery business to replace the funds.
While few store owners would admit to this practice, a trip along the few Rhode Island Avenue blocks connecting the District and Maryland reveal the lottery may mean the difference between a bustling business and a slow one.
Last week, during the noon hour at Stop & Shop Liquor in Northeast Washington, a few customers straggled into the store to purchase a pack of cigarettes or bottle of Scotch. Two blocks farther east, at Bass' Liquors across the border into Prince George's, a clerk hastily prepared sandwiches and beers, while another punched out lottery tickets for a long line of customers including many who said they were District residents.
"Sure, we'll hurt a little," said store manager Don Gould, "but if we had to depend upon the lottery for business, we wouldn't be good businessmen."
The Bass Liquor lottery grosses more than $20,000 a week, or $1,000 a week in commissions.
Some store owners, like Carl Golden of the top-grossing Shop-Rite Liquors, would not even grant that the District lottery might detract from business. In fact, Golden predicted the new lottery would be a plus for both jurisdictions because more people would be introduced to the game.
And, he concluded, glancing out over the rows and rows of bottles lining his shelves, "if the District runs the lottery like they run the city, we won't have any problems. The whole thing will be a complete financial disaster."