Since the gambling issue will be decided in the District Tuesday, The Post assembled representatives from both sides to argue their cases. What follows is an abridged transcript of their discussion:
D.C. residents spend an estimated $300 million annually on street numbers and $30 million on the Maryland lottery. Would legalizing gambling harness that money for the District of Columbia?
D.C. City Councilman John Ray: I question these figures in terms of whether it's $30 million or $300 million. I'm not sure. But let's talk about the retail sales. The lottery people go to Maryland and Virginia and they shop and they buy a number of items while they're there. They go there because it's convenient, because the products are cheaper, the malls, and that's not going to change. They're not going to stop their shopping in Maryland and Virginia simply because we get a legalized lottery game. They will continue to shop there.
The other side of that is that the Marylanders who work in the city and commute back to Maryland and Virginia, they're not going to stop at a liquor store here or retail store here in commuter traffic and buy a ticket. They're going to still buy across the line. And those who are working out in Maryland and who live in the city and commute back at night, they're not going to come back in the city necessarily to pick up their six-pack of liquor to buy a lottery ticket. They'll still buy it in Maryland where it's convenient to come back in.
Brant Coopersmith, director of the American Jewish Committee and chairman of the D.C. Committee on Legalized Gambling: I'm interested in the way Councilman Ray doesn't believe the figures despite the fact that the figures about the revenues in Maryland come from an official agency of that state, and despite the fact that the figures on illegal gambling come from the police department. He doesn't buy those figures. Doesn't think they're anywhere near that extent. On the other hand, he asserts that the people from the District of Columbia will not come here to buy their tickets or their merchandise because they go out there just to do that. It's funny that they just go across the street and they don't come back. So, he just makes asertions for which I don't think he has the slightest evidence.
Common sense and reason tell you that if we pay 600 to 1 as against Maryland's 500 to 1, not only will we get our people back, but we'll get a lot of Maryland people. And according to the Maryland authorities, we'll get people from Virginia. Now when they go into the small convenience stores, wherever these terminals are, hopefully we will serve the people well and not establish these long lines that our people are subjected to; because of our reluctance to serve them they're forced to go to limited opportunities in Maryland.
Liquor dealers tell us, and Mr. Ray asserts it, that we lose to the general fund $4 million a year in alcohol gallonage taxes. Now, he's saying that the liquor stores who all lost their business to the liquor stores right across the border are not going to get it back if they're paying 600 to 1. That the people are going to deliberately continue to go over there to get less money from a foreign jurisdiction, when they can be helping themselves. And then not buy in these stores here, but across there to get it. I think reason defies that and I think the assertion, without evidence, is typical of the kind of argument that's been made on this issue.
Ray: I would agree with you that that liquor stores close to the line in Maryland are hurt because of the folks who can walk right across the street and buy a ticket. But the fact of the matter is that most liquor stores are not right on the line. If we were to follow your argument, we would think that all the liquor stores are setting right on the line in Maryland and D.C. and everyone's walking across the line to buy these lottery tickets, which is just not the case.
The other thing that I would also point out in terms of the spin-off, as you well know, probably 95 to 96 percent of the liquor stores, as well as the local community stores in this city, are owned by people who live in Maryland and Virginia. So, the income that they take in, it's going to go back out.
We're going to get a sales tax on that. But you cannot argue with me that most of the liquor stores in this city and most of the local community grocery stores are owned by people who live in Maryland and Virginia. Just go down to the government and look. That's a statement that can be proven by looking at the records.
Coopersmith: The point you have to respond to is whether or not the residents of the District of Columbia are spending somewhere between $75 and $100 million on lottery tickets in Maryland, which is verified in my judgment by the state of Maryland itself and its figures of $30 million in revenue. And whether or not when they buy those, they make those retail purchases at the same time, and they won't do that here.