An overwhelming majority of Democratic voters in the District of Columbia favor legalized gambling in the city, according to a Washington Post poll.
The poll of 1,020 Democrats, taken to sample sentiment toward the Sept. 12 mayoral and City Council chairman primary election, found 57 percent of the respondents saying they favor legalized gambling. Compered to 32 percent against and 11 percent undecided.
At a time when legalized gambling is an important issue in the campaign for some special interest groups, the poll found voters, however often choosing candidates whose stated views on gambling were completely opposite to their own:
Nearly 2 of every 3 voters who supported Mayor Walter E. Washington for reelection, for example, said they favor legalized gambling here. The mayor, however, has stated his opposition to legalized gambling and has picked up some endorsements as a result.
In the council chairman's race, council member Douglas E. Moore has cited his opposition to legalized gambling as one reason why he should be elected rather than council member Arrington Dixon, who has proposed a city-run lottery in Washington. The majority of those opposed to gambling in the poll, however, are also opposed to Moore and said they would vote for Dixon.
Black Baptist ministers have been one of the most vocal groups against legalized gambling in the city. Among those blacks in the poll who said they were Baptist, however, legalized gambling was favored by a margin of more than 2 to 1.
The views of the ministers are important to the candidates because black Baptist preachers have traditionally been influential and often active politically in the community.
Their congregations are considered sources of potential voters, campaign workers and, in a few instances, financial support.
"We never doubted that people would want it, but they don't need it. Most times people want things that they eventuallt turn around and don't want later," said the Rev. John D. Bussey, pastor of Bethesda Baptist Church in Northeast Washington and a prominent black minister opposed to legalized gambling.
When told that black Baptists in the poll had voted 2 to 1 in favor of gambling, Bussey said, "Is that right? "When they get in that polling booth, even though we have some modern minds that have infiltrated, the Baptists would still vote against it."
All gambling is currently outlawed in the city. Last month, however, a special Citizens Gambling Study Commission set up by the city council to study the effects and feasibility of legalized gambling in the city recommended some forms of legal gambling here.
The commission, of which Bussey was a dissenting member, recommended that a city-run lottery be set up and pari-mutuel betting and bingo games and raffles run by schools and churches be permitted in Washington.
In making those recommendations, the commission also advised that the decision on whether to have legal gambling be put to the voters in a referendum.
If such an election were held the opinions of Democrats such as those polled would be crucial, because 3 of every 4 registered voters in the city are Democrats.
Although there is a proposal for a city-run lottery before the council now, current law does not allow the council to enact such legislation before Jan. 2, 1979. At that time, either the council on its own - or possibly the voters themselves through a referendum - could make gambling legal in Washington
Bryant J. Coopersmith, who was chairman of the commission, said the results of The Post poll were a further indication that city residents favor gambling..
"I'm looking forward to legalized gambling in the District of Columbia," he said. Noting that earlier surveys had found as many as 80 percent of the people in favor of gambling, he added, "I'm a little disappointed in the majority in The Post poll, but any politician who won by 57 percent to 32 percent would be pretty happy. It should be an indication to the people on the (city) council of where the people stand".
A poll the size of the one taken by The Post has a theoretical margin of error of 3 percent in either direction. However, normal problems encountered in polling - such as the refusal of some persons to participate in the poll - could raise that margin of error somewhat.
Respondents in The Post poll, taken by telephone and in person from June 1 to June 5, were told, "There has been some discussion of bringing legalized gambling to the District of Columbia. Generally speaking, would you favor or opposed having legalized gambling here?"
One of the most common responses among those interviewed in person was that legal gambling should be allowed in the city because many city residents - including some of those interviewed - go across the city line to take part in Maryland's state lottery and to bet at horse tracks in Maryland and West Virginia.
For years, illegal numbers games have flourished in the city, and social clubs and even some churches regularly sponsor trips to racetracks. Last year, City Council member Willie J. Hardy (D-Ward 7) said she won $2,380 at racktracks in Maryland and West Virginia.
In some instances, The Post poll found sharp differences in opinion toward legalized gambling among various groups in different areas of the city. (KEY OFF)(KEYWORD)cross the city, for example, Ward 3, the mostly white and predominantly affluent section of the city west of Rock Creek Park, was the only ward where a minority of those surveyed - 34 percent - favoured gambling.
The strongest sentiment for legalized gambling came from Ward 8, the mostly black, low-income Anacostia section in Southeast Washington, where 75 percent of those interviewed favored gambling.
Among all black people polled, 65 percent were in favor, 27 percent against, 8 percent undecided. Among whites, 38 percent were in favor, 46 percent opposed, and 15 percent undecided, the poll found.
Some critics have said legalized gambling would amount to a tax on the poor. The poll found the strongest support for legalized gambling among middle-income and upper-income groups. Sixty-one percent of those in the $10,000-to-$17,999 a year, and $30,-000-to-$49,999 a year income brackets favored legalized gambling.
Those with family incomes of $50,000 or more comprising one twentieth of those interviewed, were nearly evently divided on legalized gambling. The very poor and near poor - those earning $10,000 a year or less - supported gambling by margins of about 5 to 3. This group comprised 15 percent of those sampled.
There was no discernible pattern of support or opposition based on the age of those who responded. However, 62 percent of the men interviewed favored gambling as compared to 52 percent of the women.
Among Baptist, both black and white, the margin remained 2 to 1. Among Catholics, the margin of support was nearly 21/2 to 1. It was almost 2 to 1 among Methodists. The only religious denomination opposed to gambling among the poll respondents were Pentecostals, 75 percent of whom said they would not favor legalized gambling.
For a time, especially when candidates attempted to gain endorsements from clergymen, gambling was a frequently raised issue in city politics. But since the study commission's recommendations deferring the decision to a citizen referendum, local politicians have all gravitated toward the view of letting the people decide.
City Council member Marion Barry (D-At Large), for instance, who led the effort to set up the gambling study commission and is now running for mayor, was asked if he were for or against gambling. "I'm for a referendum," Barry said. "I want the citizens to decide. I want to go into a voting booth myself and decide."
Mayor Washington, who has received the backing of some ministers because of his previous opposition to gambling, now says that, while he has been opposed to most forms of gambling in the past, he has to study the commission's recommendations - released more than a month ago - before commenting on them further.
When told about the Post poll and the finding that 64 percent of those who supported him also supported legalized gambling, the mayor refused further comment. "I don't want to evaluate it," he said.
Council Chairman Sterling Tucker is also publicly opposed to all forms of legalized gambling. Asked what he would do as mayor if the city council passed legalized gambling legislation that did not require a referendum, Tucker responded, "I see no chance of that kind of legislation passing."
Even Moore, who used to critcize loudly hkis political opponents as supporters of the 'three Gs" - "gays (homosexual rights)> grass (legalized marijuana) and gambling," says he will not try to make gambling a major issue in the campaign.
Bussey was asked if the poll's findings indicated that the ministers and antigambling advocated were out of touch with the reality of how city residents feel.
"We are even more in touch with reality (than the poll)," he said. "We deal with the people who lose."