Only one in nine tickets will pay off when Washington's first legal gambling operation opens Wednesday morning, but everyone connected with the game expects to be a winner, including the merchants and city officials who are counting their money even before the first player buys a lottery card.
"I'm elated and nervous," admitted Douglass Gordon, executive director of the D.C. Lottery and Charitable Games Control Board. "We've waited a year and a half now, wondering if we'd make it. But now the tickets are here and I see the commercials on TV -- it's like a dream come true."
Even those who might be expected to lose as a result of the new competition -- the Maryland lottery and the area's illegal numbers games -- don't look for trouble from the D.C. venture.
"We don't think either one of us is going to have any impact on the other," said Robert Laird, deputy director of marketing for the Maryland lottery. He predicts that people in the District as well as Maryland will play both games because the instant game is very different from the daily numbers.
Maryland's legal lottery has been operating since 1973, and the state now sells about $457 million worth of lottery tickets a year, netting $199 million in state revenue. Laird estimated that roughly 15 percent of that money comes from D.C. residents who primarily play their number in nearby Prince George's County.
If Washington sells all 10 million tickets printed for its first game, the city will receive roughly $3 million in gambling revenues. Next year the instant games are expected to net $26 million for the city -- funds that have already been counted into the $1.8 billion fiscal 1983 budget.
City budget director Gladys Mack pointed out that while $26 million was only 1.5 percent of the budget, it was still significant. That sum is about the size of the city's housing budget, and is twice as much as it costs to run the city's tax-collection agency, she said.
Illegal numbers are a much bigger business than the legal game is expected to be, according to police, who estimated that as much as $250 million is played illegally here each year. Police estimated that there are about 30 large numbers operations in town, plus a number of small ones.
"Washington, D.C., has always been a big numbers town," said Sgt. Bernard Emmet, a gambling squad detective, adding that police don't expect the new game to change that. The Maryland lottery, for example, helped rather than hurt the illegal number games here, he said, by providing a second number on which people began to place illegal bets.
Sgt. Carnwell Dean explained that the illegal number is played by betting money, from a few cents to hundreds of dollars, on a number or combination of numbers. Then, at the end of the day, the winning number is derived by a complicated process of adding the payoffs from certain races at a local racetrack. Those people who chose the winning number are paid off by the people with whom they placed their bets.
One of the reasons the illegal numbers are so popular is that "the illegal numbers game pays higher than the legal game," Dean said. A $1 bet pays $600 on the street in D.C., but only $500 in the Maryland lottery, he said.
Dean also said police believe that the instant lottery game will not cut into the numbers business, but will instead appeal both to avid gamblers as well as to people who do not play the illegal game.
Next spring the D.C. board hopes to start a daily game like Maryland's, in which players will choose a number, bet on it and collect if their number is selected as that day's winner. That sort of game, Laird said, could have more of an impact on Maryland revenues. If past experience holds true, it could boost the volume of the illegal games.
Meanwhile, nearly 800 Washington businesses are making storage space for the new silver tickets, which will be delivered by armored car early this week. Vendors will earn a 6 percent commission on tickets sold, but the game's real attraction for them is the hope that lottery players will shop in their stores as well.
"I think it will help the business -- it will bring in more traffic," said Jack Thomas, owner of Sarge's Liquor Post at 14th and Girard streets NW and the first businessman in the District to receive a lottery board license to sell the $1 instant tickets.
All potential sources of revenue are welcome, said Theodore Allen, who owns a television and radio store in Northeast. "I hope to handle at least 100 tickets a day."
Ed Flemming, owner of Modern Liquors on Ninth Street NW, doesn't expect any great profits and is less excited about the new game. He said he signed up for a lottery license "in self defense" to compete with other businesses in his neighborhood.
According to lottery board officials, tickets are being sold to vendors in packs of 200 for $128. The $72 difference includes a 6 percent commission for selling the tickets, plus $60 to cover the payment of the $2, $5 and $10 winning tickets in each pack.
Those prizes are paid on the spot by the vendors. A lottery player will buy a ticket and scratch the coating off six squares on it to find a winning number or not. On the squares are printed $2, $5, $10, $100, $1,000 or $10,000 -- three squares showing the same amount will pay that amount.
To collect the higher prizes, winners must go to the lottery claims center at 1420 New York Ave. NW. All buyers of winning $100 tickets will also become eligible for the grand prize drawing where they compete for a chance to win prizes from$1,000 to $1 million.
Initial orders from vendors ranged from 10 to 40 packs, said Walter Ray, vice president for field operations for Games Production, the company that is operating the lottery. While orders poured in throughout the weekend, Ray would not speculate on how many tickets will sell in the opening week. The lottery board anticipates selling the game out in eight to 10 weeks.