D.C. City Council member Nadine P. Winter, who has oversight responsibility for the D.C. Lottery Board, has sharply criticized the quasi-independent board's operations and has raised the question of whether the city government should take over the agency.
"I am deeply concerned about the FULL operation" of the board, Winter said in a "personal and confidential" letter last Friday to board chairman Brant Coopersmith. "It appears to me that the receipts and expenditures are so far out of line that a decision should be made expeditiously whether it would be more feasible for the city to run the operation."
Winter's letter was followed yesterday by a five-page letter to the board from city budget director Elizabeth (Betsy) Reveal, who gave the board members a week to respond to 40 detailed questions about a budget request it submitted several months ago.
Reveal, who wrote that she based her questions in part on Winter's complaints, said in an interview that even if the board gets the additional $1.5 million it has requested for the current fiscal year, the lottery agency would overspend its budget by about $222,000 at its current spending rate.
Winter declined to discuss her letter with reporters. She wrote to Coopersmith: "After careful review, I have assumed that the board's budget is overspent, the staffing is out of line and lack of knowledge of the total operation by board members is atrocious." Winter asked Coopersmith to meet with her on Thursday.
Coopersmith said yesterday that he does not think the city government can run the legal gambling operations without outside help. "If they take it over, I guarantee they won't do well," he said yesterday.
Coopersmith said the board can justify its expenditures, and that one major factor in the increased spending was the doubling of its staff to about 80 persons in recent months. That move came after a consultant concluded that the board was substantially understaffed.
The twin assaults on the board's operations come after months of controversy involving Mayor Marion Barry's intervention into operations of the board and its efforts to award lucrative gambling contracts. Barry has called the agency a "crazy, runaway board" and at one point threatened to try to fire some of its members.
City Council and lottery sources suggested yesterday that questions are being raised about the board in order to ease the way for Barry to either nominate two new members to the sharply divided five-member body later this month or to support legislation that would abolish the board and move its operations under the executive office of the mayor.
According to lottery sources, Winter's letter was written at Barry's request. Barry's press secretary, Annette Samuels, did not respond to questions about Barry's position on the lottery operations.
The board is now in the process--for the second time--of choosing a contractor to operate the city's first legalized daily numbers game. The board in March chose one contractor, Lottery Technology Enterprises, to operate the game, but reluctantly rescinded the choice after an extended court fight by losing bidders and intense pressure from Barry to do so.
Meanwhile, the board last week voted 3 to 2 to rehire Games Production Inc., the company that now operates the board's instant lottery ticket games, for another two years upon the expiration of the firm's current contract in October.
Board sources said yesterday, however, that decision may be retracted later this week. The board's action last Wednesday placed the contract for the game in the city's so-called sheltered market, meaning that it could go only to a minority firm with expereience in running a lottery, a description the lottery board said only fit one firm, Games Production.
On Thursday, after the board's vote, another D.C. firm, Raven Systems & Research Inc., asked the city's Minority Business Opportunity Commission to amend Raven's existing certification as a minority business enterprise to note that the firm does lottery work.
The commission may vote on the request as early as today. If Raven is certified to do lottery work, lottery board sources said the agency probably would then rescind its rehiring of Games Production and issue a general request for bids under which both Games Production and Raven could submit proposals.