As the D.C. Instant Lottery begins its second game, raking in money beyond the most optimistic predictions, the inner workings of the new agency -- the D.C. Lottery and Charitable Games Control Board -- are unstable and could threaten the game's future.
The board is understaffed even for its present operation, and the work will grow as the board soon begins to regulate raffles and bingo games and launches a daily numbers game.
"We've created the most successful black business in this city," said Brant Coopersmith, chairman of the lottery board. "The printing and distribution companies involved are making money, and they are District companies, and the government is making money. The business is basically in good shape.
"But we have bureaucratic problems," he said. "We have to deal with them before they begin to have a negative effect on the business."
* The board's staff is perilously thin. It is supposed to have 41 employes, but has only nine, executive director Douglass W. Gordon said.
The board initially was authorized to hire 14 staff members to prepare for the first instant lottery game in October and 27 more employes later. But the first game was prepared and started two months early in August with the nine staffers and some consultants.
The first game was expanded from 10 million to 20 million tickets and a second instant game, with 30 million tickets, began last week. But, Gordon said this week, no additional staff has been hired.
* No staff or staff director has been hired for the bingo and raffles division. Rules for bingo games and raffles to be run by churches and charities already have been written by a consultant and are approaching final approval by the lottery board next week. Licenses will be issued in the next month.
Moreover, Gordon said he is aware of illegal bingo and lottery games in the city but has no staff to do anything about it.
* The instant lottery has been successfully managed so far, but there is supposed to be a lottery division director and none has been appointed. Norval E. Perkins, former chief officer of the Board of Elections and Ethics, has taken charge of the lottery division as a consultant.
* The board has not hired a security chief to watch over its computers, ticket distribution and checks given winners. In all reported cases of falsified and stolen tickets so far, the board has been able to stop payment.
In the midst of these administrative problems, the board's high profile has brought political pressure from Mayor Marion Barry, according to board members and staff. Barry, they said, wants to move the agency from downtown to an office building in Southeast to demonstate the city government's commitment to redevelopment of that area. Barry's press secretary, Annette Samuels, said she knows of no such plans.
Despite these problems, however, the instant lottery game is extremely popular. When the daily numbers game begins next spring -- May is the tentative starting time -- the gross receipts will be about $87 million, Gordon said.
The first instant game grossed about $20 million. About half the money is to be used to pay winners; another 20 percent goes to cover operating costs and the remainder goes to the city treasury.
As yet, the administrative problems have not handicapped the game, Gordon said. "The perception of the general public is that the game is well run. No one knows of any real horror stories or attempts at sabotage or falsifying tickets that have succeeded," he said.
"We are going to get a security chief to keep it that way. Getting staffing up to level is an administrative function that we are taking care of," he added.
He said he has shifted some money intended for hiring to buy a computer, to pay for guard service for the board's offices and to absorb a rent increase on office space.
Despite some complaints from staff about extra work, no major complaints from the public have been received, Gordon said. Mayor Barry, who has had unexpected revenue for the city treasury as a result of the popularity of the lottery, has not complained either.
Even the relatively high 9-to-1 odds against a person buying a winning ticket have not drawn major criticism, although most lotteries have odds of about 6 to 1.
"People love it," Coopersmith said. "It's a game. If you want to gamble and consider the odds, there's horses, casinos. This is fun. Ladies get together and buy $400 worth of tickets and have scratch parties."