A chance to buy into Florida's $100 million lottery jackpot, which drew scores of people to a dry cleaners in Southeast Washington, was wiped out in a police raid yesterday morning.
The impromptu sales drew about 200 people to the Hilltop Cleaners in the 2700 block of Good Hope Road SE, most of whom heard the news about the sales on a television broadcast Thursday night.
Three and a half hours after the cleaners opened its doors at 7 a.m., the operation also drew the attention of the police gambling unit and D.C. lottery inspectors, who removed a computer, confiscated $1,000 and declared the sales illegal.
Owner Ingak Lee insisted his operation was legal because he was not selling lottery tickets for tonight's drawing, but merely processing the sales via a computer linked to a central broker. Those who paid $1 per ticket -- and a $1 fee -- were given a receipt with numbers chosen by the computer. The receipt said, "This is not a ticket."
Lee said the operation is no different from someone calling up a relative in Florida and placing an order for a ticket.
The computer is linked to an outfit in New Jersey that specializes in selling lottery tickets for several states, said Intak Lee, the owner's brother and a lawyer.
It is this office, he said, that ultimately arranges to buy the tickets in Florida, where the size of the jackpot has set off a frenzy of ticket-buying.
"My client is not selling the lottery tickets. The purchase is consummated in Florida," said Intak Lee. "The customer comes to my client . . . who then processes the order."
That did not convince either police or the D.C. Lottery and Charitable Games Control Board, which regulates the industry locally. Spokeswoman Dana V. Shelley said only licensed vendors can sell lottery tickets. Even these vendors, she said, are not allowed to sell lotteries outside of those run in the District.
"To our knowledge, this person was giving tickets with numbers on them in exchange for cash," she said. "He was selling tickets."
What all this means to the people who paid for the "tickets" is unclear. A police spokesman said an effort will be made to return the money, provided those who are owed can be identified. No charges have been filed. The matter has been referred to the U.S. Attorney's Office for review.
Yesterday afternoon, after the police left, people still gathered in front of the cleaners. Several had been assured that their purchases had been processed, and they were convinced they had a shot at the jackpot.
"I'll find a lot to do with it if I get it," said William Newman, who said he showed up shortly after 6 a.m. and was the fifth person in line. "The hard part is getting it."