When President Truman played poker in the White House, it was unlawful. If President Eisenhower played bridge for stakes in the White House, it was unlawful. When D.C. residents today play the numbers, it is illegal. But thousands to, and thousands also travel to Maryland to play the legal numbers game there.
The Maryland Board of Revenue Estimates says, according to the press, D.C. residents provide $30 million in revenue to Maryland, which means those residents place $75 million worth of legal bets. To purchase those lottery tickets, D.C. residents travel to Prince George's and Montgomery counties, where 40 percent of all Maryland lottery purchases are made. On those trips, D.C. residents also purchase millions of dollars worth of retail merchandise, which is purchased in the District, would provide millions in sales taxes and income taxes. This amounts to D.C. residents' subsidizing the greatest revenue surplus in Maryland's history at the same time the District faces its greatest deficit.
To recoup some of those millions, and perhaps more, all the District has to do is to start its own lottery. This would be achieved by passage of Initiative 2 on the ballot May 6.
In addition to the numbers game, the initiative would legalize bingo and raffles for religious, educational and charitable purposes, and games of chance in the home or in public places where no profit inures to the organizer.
D.C. residents also spend millions of dollars in Maryland in legal parimutuel wagering in Maryland race tracks. Initiative 2 would legalize parimutuel wagering in the District, permitting dog racing and jai alai.
Maryland residents might be attracted to D.C. sporting events as well as the D.C. lottery, which would pay bettors 600 to 1 compared with 500 to 1 in Maryland.
D.C. gambling revenues would be distributed, in part, among non-profit organizations engaged in service to the people of the District. Another portion would go to public and private special educational programs. The remainder would to go D.C. government programs for which there are no funds. The distribution of the money will be in "such proportions and amounts" as are approved by the mayor with the advice and consent of the City Council.
The strongest argument against legalized gambling in the District is that it is a regressive tax on the poor. The poor are more likely to play because they don't have the diversity of opportunities for speculation that the more affluent have -- such as trips to Las Vegas and stock or commodity market speculation, which at times threatens the economic well-being of all, as in the case of the Hunt brothers' silver speculation.
Lotteries hurt their communities most when they provide for a large underground illegal economy that returns no revenue to the communities and frequently cheats the players. There are no studies that show that a legal lottery will put the illegal game out of business, but common sense tells you that some players would shift to the legal game and bring their revenues with them.
The biggest beneficiary of all would be unfunded government programs. In the District, good programs that survive the legislative process -- which includes tacit consent from the Congress -- have to wait still longer for the budgetary process to be completed -- sometimes 18 months. Arbitrary actions by congressional appropriations committees also can delay programs. But gambling revenues would be similar to grant funds, which, in this case, will not suffer the usual budgetary encumbrances but will provide for flexibility by the D.C. government.
The initiative provides for the establishment of a Gaming Control Board with five members to be appointed by the mayor with the advice and consent of the City Council. They would all serve four-year terms.
The opposition has noted that the private non-profit organizations and public, private and educational programs that would be beneficiaries are unspecified by the initiative, and are therefore unlimited in number and might by created by opportunists.
But such matters would be dealt with through regulations created by the Gaming Control Board. And the publication and hearing requirements of the Administrative Procedures Act, which governs the development of regulations, would protect the community against arbitrary actions on the part of the board. Failing that, the City Council may amend the legislation when it believes it is necessary.
The initiative was placed on the ballot through the efforts of a Gambling Study Commission created by the D.C. City Council, which in May 1978, after more than a year of study, recommended the measures contained in the initiative and that the council place an advisory referendum on the ballot. The City Council was either unwilling or unable to follow that recommendation. Members of the study commission exercised their rights under the new law providing for initiative and referendum and placed the issue on the ballot. They believe that the vast legal gambling should have the chance to vote for it.