D.C. Lottery officials, marking the first anniversary of the start of the popular instant lottery game, yesterday sought to discourage Mayor Marion Barry and the City Council from trying to assert greater control over lottery operations.
"In jurisdictions where the state government maintains the reins too tightly over a process like this, which is essentially a business, it shows up in lower sales," warned Brant Coopersmith, chairman of the lottery board, prior to an anniversary reception at the lottery board's offices.
About 61 million lottery tickets have been sold since last August, according to lottery officials, about 30 percent more than originally projected. The games are expected to net $18 million in revenues for the D.C. government by Sept. 30, the end of the current fiscal year.
But the quasi-independent five-member board has been criticized by Barry and members of the D.C. City Council for the manner in which it has awarded major contracts to run the games, the size of the board's professional staff and the relatively high operating costs associated with running the game.
Council member Nadine P. Winter (D-Ward 6) has introduced a bill to expand the lottery board to seven members and make the chairman a salaried chief operating officer who reports to the mayor. Under the proposal, the chairman, and not the full board, would have responsibility for hiring an administrative officer.
The D.C. Inspector General's office is looking into various aspects of the lottery board's operations, and the FBI is investigating allegations of bribery and conflict of interest in connection with the award of some lottery contracts.
Coopersmith yesterday praised the board for withstanding outside pressure in awarding contracts and said it would be a mistake for the council to tamper with the existing lottery law for at least another year, while the board builds experience running its new computer-based daily numbers game.
"The independence of the decision-making process I think is vital to saving this city millions of dollars," Coopersmith said, adding that any change in the law at this point would impede the operation of the lucrative numbers game.
"I'm confident that when our numbers game really gets rolling we'll do better than anyone else in the United States," he said. "And that's because running a lottery is a business and has to be accepted and supported as such by governments and the political leadership in them. And I'm proud that in our city, despite our disagreements, the need for independence in this agency is understood and for the most part appreciated."
But Winter, who recently spent about $1,000 in council funds to visit several other states that operate lotteries, contends the D.C. board's involvement in running the lottery must be scaled back to that of policy advisers.
Winter said no other lottery board she has studied exercises as much independence of state government as does the District's board, whose members are not elected but are appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the council.
"What Mr. Coopersmith fails to look at--and he says over and over again that he doesn't want it to be political--is that if something goes wrong, nobody has ever heard of Brant Coopersmith or any of the board members," Winter said. "They hold the mayor and the council responsible. . . . They do not see that as a separate entity from anything else."
A public hearing on Winter's bill will be held on Sept. 7 in the City Council chamber.
According to figures released yesterday, the D.C. instant lottery has produced five millionaires and awarded more than $30 million in cash prizes in its first year.