The D.C. Lottery "Lucky Numbers Game" got off to a fast start yesterday as bettors, fingering lists of three-digit numbers and dreaming of payoffs, formed lines at betting terminals that were often longer than lines at the cash registers in participating stores.
After the last ticket had been bought, lottery board officials reported a total intake of about $73,000 on at least 60,000 bets placed at the 58 convenience stores, sandwich shops and liquor outlets that had working terminals for the first day of the new daily numbers game.
The officials said they expected to pay out about $21,000 to those bettors who had yesterday's winning number--648--and that approximately $45,000 would go to the city treasury.
The lottery board decided last week to open the new game, which is expected to generate $1 million in revenue for the city by Sept. 30, on schedule even though the nationwide telephone strike had prevented C&P telephone personnel from completing installation of all the betting terminals.
The 58 that were operating yesterday were concentrated in Anacostia and Northeast Washington and represent about 20 percent of a fully operational system.
Most of those betting yesterday said they were happy to have the new game in the District. "I love it, I think it's wonderful," said District resident Constance Anthony, dressed in a white dress and straw hat, as she placed a bet on number 139 after standing in a line 10 deep in Globe Liquors.
Globe owner Morton A. Davis shared her delight, and well he might have, since the lottery board reported that his store at the intersection of East Capitol and Benning Road SE drew some of the heaviest betting: 2,280 bets for $2,200 by 6:45 last night.
"I think this is one of the best things to happen in the District of Columbia, revenue-wise," said Davis, adding that he had calls "all day long" from people asking if he had a betting terminal.
Davis shared top billing for betting with Mike's Liquors at 410 Fourth St. SW, which had taken in $2,083 from 2,150 bets by the same hour. The minimum bet in the game is 50 cents, and bettors can wager as much as they want. The payout for a $1 bet on the winning three-digit number is $500.
Maryland State Lottery officials said betting in their game yesterday was about normal for a Monday, and they could not yet determine the impact of the District's new game. Late yesterday afternoon Maryland had taken in $1.1 million in sales and officials estimated that by the close of the day the take would be as high as $1.5 million.
Monday sales over the last two months have ranged from $1.4 million to $1.7 million.
Some Maryland lottery outlets just over the District line take in as much as $20,000 a week in betting sales, reported one liquor store owner who declined to be identified. "We expect that we're going to suffer somewhat when D.C. gets fully into operation," he said.
For some bettors, the new D.C. numbers game offers expanded opportunities. That was the view of Alice Holmes who bet $1.50 in a 7-Eleven store yesterday and commented: "I guess at least this way I can try it here and try it in Maryland."
Customers yesterday were betting numbers from their car license plates, numbers they said they always use for gambling and numbers they had dreamed. "You won't believe this," said one man placing his bet in a 7-Eleven store on Benning Road. "Last night I dreamed I would be lucky today."
There were only a few complaints to mark the opening day. Some came from some customers who were accustomed to the heavy paper on which Maryland numbers tickets are printed and who said the District tickets were "too thin." The plain white tickets resemble ordinary cash sales receipts
Other complaints came from shopowners who were unhappy that their terminals were not working for the first day of the new game. Lottery board officials said they expect the remaining terminals will be connected quickly with an end to the telephone strike apparently in view.
Lottery terminals will close each evening at 7:55 p.m. After a televised selection of the winning numbers, they are flashed over the terminals in each location.
Winners can pick up their payoffs at any participating store. The drawing will be broadcast live on Channel 32 each night.
Of course, some people know that playing the game is another way of filling the city coffers. As one non-bettor in a 7-Eleven said, "I call it tax yourself as you go."