An Atlanta firm that manufactures lottery tickets has launched its own last-minute, high intensity, $80,000 media campaign here for passage of a referendum next Tuesday that would legalize a lottery and daily numbers game in the nation's capital.
Scientific Games Development Corp., which has indicated it plans to bid on the coveted and lucrative contract to manufacture District lottery tickets if the referendum is approved, has set up its own lobbying group in the District, the Yes on 6 Committee.
The $80,000 independent media campaign by Scientific Games is in addition to $10,000 the firm contributed to the D.C. Committee on Legalized Gambling to get the gambling issue on the ballot. The D.C. committee, the principal Washington group urging passage of the referendum, has spent $33,862 more raised through other sources.
The high profile public relations campaign, considered by local advertisers to be a heavy one in Washington's relatively expensive media market, is the kind of effort that supporters of the referendum had hoped to avoid.
The initiative in its present form has been considered a shoo-in for passage, particularly since neighboring Maryland already has a lottery and daily numbers games popular with District residents. Moreover, the current proposal does not contain provision to legalize betting on jai alai and dog racing -- the two forms of gambling that contributed heavily to the defeat of another gambling measure in May.
"We're not happy with it," Brant J. Coppersmith, chairman of the D.C. committee, said of the expensive advertising campaign. "We were planning a low-key campaign. We didn't see any need for it."
The Yes on 6 Committee, seeking support for a proposal technically known as Initiative No. 6, has been airing commercials on 11 area radio stations and all five major commercial television stations in the Washington area, according to Bill Butcher, president of a Los Angeles firm that produced the commercials.
Several Washington-area media experts said yesterday that the Atlanta firm's $80,000 media blitz was an unusually heavy public relations campaign in the city, where a single minute of commercial time can cost up to $10,000 during prime time.
Butcher said, however, "It's not a major effort. It's far, far short of saturation."
Coopersmith said he was approached by the ad hoc Yes On 6 Committee to have the advertisements run and coordinated through his own committee.
"I saw no reason for a campaign of that kind, so we declined to get involved," Coopersmith said. "We're not spending a lot of money. We don't want to spend a lot of money. Apparently one of these companies wanted to make sure it passes. The business interests involved wanted to make sure the people knew what this is all about."
The television ads begin with an announcer telling voters that District residents are losing money to the Maryland lottery, while the camera circles a row of hats, a policeman's hat, a fireman's helmet, and a graduation day hat -- an apparent reference to the city's chronic cash shortage, which is leading to a reduction in key city services. Backers of the measure contend that at least $35 million in additional revenues could be raised for the city government each year.
The announcer then points out that the Nov. 4 proposal does not include dog racing and jai alai.
Scientific Games contributed about $6,000 to the last initiative, and gave about $10,000 to the campaign to get this revised measure placed on the ballot. The D.C. committee has spent about $37,000 to collect signatures for this referendum and to pay the court costs after a group of ministers challenged the petition signatures.
The progambling forces won the court case, but the ministers, and another ad hoc antigambling citizens group, has appealed.
The gambling referendum, as now written, would provide that lottery equipment companies like Scientific Games make bids to supply tickets and equipment for the city's lottery and daily numbers games. The bill calls for the creation of a five-member lottery and charitable games control board, with members appointed by the mayor with the consent of the City Council. The board would award the contract to the "lowest and most technically competent bidder" from among the competing firms.
No officials from Scientific Games could be reached for immediate comment yesterday. However, last spring, James F. Trucks, corporate counsel for the firm, said that the company would be interested in bidding to supply a D.C. lottery. Only 14 other states now have such operations.