The principal opponents of next Tuesday's D.C. referendum on whether to legalize city-run lottery and daily numbers games conceded yesterday that a lottery ticket firm's $80,000 media blitz supporting the measure is likely to provide the final boost to ensure its approval.
Several Baptist ministers and two members of the D.C. City Council opposing the measure said yesterday that the antigambling forces have attracted little money, little support and have virtually no prospect of countering the progambling advertisements. The ads have been financed by Scientific Games Development Corp., an Atlanta company that makes and distributes instant lottery game tickets and hopes to win a contract here if the initiative is approved.
"It's going to pull them over," Council member Nadine P. Winter (D-Ward 6), an outspoken gambling opponent, said of the commercials that have been airing on the District's five major commercial television stations and 11 radio stations.
Another prominent opponent of legalized gambling in the city, Councilman John Ray (D-At Large) said, "I got mad as hell" when he found out about the ads. "My guess right now is that it will pass. I think they [the ads] will help. I get the feeling they're playing up the city's financial crisis, which hits home to a lot of people."
The television ads begin with a scene of several hats lying in a circle, including a policeman's hat, a fireman's hat, a graduation day mortarboard and a doctor's head mirror -- all in apparent reference to the city's worsening budget crisis that has forced layoffs of municipal workers and threatened serious cutbacks in city services.
The announcer then tells television viewers that the winner in a lottery is the one who runs the game, and that right now Maryland with its legal lottery is the winner over District residents. The announcer also reminds voters that this proposal, referred to as Initiative No. 6, does not include provisions to legalize dog racing and jai alai, the two most controversial proponents of a bill District voters overwhelmingly rejected May 6.
"Anytime you have commercials like that, people who can't think will be persuaded," said the Rev. Andrew Fowler, executive secretary of the Committee of 100 Ministers and a leading opponent of the lottery initiative. "If I didn't know better myself, I'd be persuaded."
Rev. John D. Bussey, another of the most outspoken opponents of the bill, said, "That's what they did before; they had the same kind of blitz. We just pray to the Lord and do the best we can with what we got. We're going to do more praying than working from now on."
Bussey said the antigambling forces have raised only $3,400, and he has already spent most of that for newspaper advertisements.
While waiting for the outcome of a court fight over the gambling measure, opponents have taken their case to their church pulpits and to public forums, hoping to produce a last-minute groundswell of opposition like the kind that defeated the May 6 initiative. So far, they concede, they have had little success, in part because of the Maryland daily lottery's popularity with D.C. residents. Maryland does not have an instant game like the ones that Scientific Games promotes. Nothing in the proposed D.C. gambling measure would prohibit creation of an instant game.
"Everywhere I go, people are looking forward to it [legal gambling]," Winter said. "It seems to me like there's real support for it. I just suspect that most of the people who went to the polls last time and voted against it were opposed to dog racing and jai alai. There is no real organized effort this time against the gambling."
"We have nothing to hide, we have nothing to be ashamed of," Scientific Games' Vice President James F. Trucks said yesterday about his firm's D.C. advertising effort. "The only way we can build domestic business is by adding new business in new jurisdictions."
He said the firm has no guarantee that it will get a contract with the city and declined to predict what a D.C. contract might be worth for the company. "We will compete fairly; we don't expect to be guaranteed business," Trucks said. "We have never asked for any guarantee and we won't."
Scientic Games' Washington conduit for its advertising campaign is the "Yes on 6 Committee" that was formed "so we could be our own masters."
The firm is able to gamble with its own money because apparently it is the General Motors of the instant lottery ticket business. Scientific Games has contracts with 10 of the 14 states that have lotteries, as well as franchises in England, Israel and several other countries.
In its corporate headquarters, located in a nondescript three-story office building in an unincorporated area on the northern outskirts of Atlanta, some 40 well-dressed executives bustled about yesterday behind double-locked doors working on new games designed to keep instant lottery players coming back for more.
A coffee table in the firm's conference room was covered with multicolored tickets from recently distributed games. Trucks picked up one designed for the Michigan state lottery. It had six rectangles that, when scraped with a coin, revealed a printed dollar amount hidden beneath a foil-like covering. Any three amounts alike would win that amount -- up to $50,000 a year for life for the top prize, Trucks said. Other formats are used elsewhere. These scrape-away tickets are sold in restaurants and bars for $1 apiece and customers know immediately whether they are winners.
Trucks said his firm has nothing to do with the daily drawing type of lottery. His firm manufactures the instant game cards, provides marketing advice and programs the computerized cards so that states can certify that a certain percentage will be winners -- and losers.