No one has to sell Chris J. Snipes, a 41-year-old Metrobus driver from Brentwood, on the D.C. instant lottery. Taking his first chance on the new game, Snipes bought a $1 ticket at a liquor store on Rhode Island Avenue NW yesterday. A few hours later he had $8,000 in his pocket.
Manassas building engineer Robert McMillion had to buy 30 tickets to find the one that won him a $10,000 prize, but before the end of the day he too had been given a check for $8,000 -- the remainder was withheld for taxes. The third big winner on the inaugural day of the lottery, Martseller Bethea of Northwest Washington, was about to throw her $10,000 ticket away before someone explained to her what it was worth.
All around town yesterday, thousands of Washingtonians and commuters played the new instant lottery. Owners of liquor stores, newsstands, corner groceries and gasoline stations reported brisk sales of the lottery tickets, with some businesses ordering more before the day was through.
By the end of the business day, about 750,000 tickets had been sold and hundreds of $2, $5 and $10 prizes paid out by vendors, the D.C. Lottery and Charitable Games Control Board estimated. In addition, the lottery board issued checks to 30 winners of $100 prizes and three winners of $1,000, along with the three known $10,000 winners.
There may be other $10,000 winners at large. The lottery board said a man called the board's offices and said he had won the big prize, but he did not make it downtown yesterday to claim his winnings. A Southeast liquor store owner said he sold a $10,000 ticket to a woman who also did not show up at the lottery board.
Many store owners around the city said they had not expected the game to be so popular. Paul Medley, who runs a small convenience store on Martin Luther King Avenue SE, bought 200 tickets and sold all of them Tuesday before the game officially began. David Allex, manager of Central Liquors at Ninth and F streets NW, said he sold 4,000 tickets yesterday between 10 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. "We had to reorder three times," he said.
Only one of every nine tickets was a winner, and so inevitably there were losers yesterday as well.
"We've got a full tank, we just came by for the tickets," said Sam Hendricks, who drove a shiny blue Cadillac Fleetwood into the Exxon gasoline station at 5230 Georgia Ave. NW so that his brother Quincy could buy 10 tickets. They scratched the silvery coating off the cards. "No luck," Hendricks said, shaking his head.
"I'm so depressed, I'm going to jump off the Calvert Street Bridge," grumbled Robin Weir, who owns a hair salon near Dupont Circle. His friends bought him 50 tickets for his birthday yesterday, but he didn't win a cent.
Georgetown merchants were grumbling, meanwhile, because they are not allowed to sell tickets at all, due to restrictions imposed by Congress that forbid lottery ticket sales in historic portions of Georgetown or in areas surrounding the Mall's federal monuments.
"I'm not allowed to sell lottery tickets," said an angry Bob Sandler, owner of Wagner's Liquors at 1717 Wisconsin Ave. "But that's unconstitutional . . . What is Congress afraid of?"
"We've had numerous inquiries and calls," said George Diamond, owner of Eagle Wine and Liquor at 1326 Wisconsin Ave. "I've had a couple of irrate people in here who say, 'Aren't you in Washington? Why can't you sell lottery tickets?' Virginians are pouring in across the bridge and I can't do a thing for them."
Last year, after D.C. voters approved the lottery, a House-Senate conference panel decided to place the restrictions on ticket sales. "There was objection to the lottery in the House, so this was just kind of a hammered-out compromise in conference," said a staff assistant to the House D.C. Appropriations subcommittee.
Some merchants yesterday spoke of possible petition drives or lawsuits to try to bring the lottery to the restricted Georgetown zone, which extends from Rock Creek west to Glover-Archbold Park and from the Potomac north to Dumbarton Oaks Park.
But for the most part, the lottery's first day was deemed a success. "I think all the people involved deserve a lot of credit, especially the agents selling the tickets," said lottery board member Jerry Cooper. D.C. police reported no problems related to ticket sales.
Snipes, the bus driver who won $10,000 on his first try, seemed overwhelmed as he appeared before reporters and camera crews at lottery board headquarters on New York Avenue NW. He collected his check for $8,000 and bounded for the door. "I'm gonna spend it on my kids," he said, as he left to find a parking ticket on his car outside.
McMillion said he bought his 30 tickets at Plain and Fancy, a donut shop at 1501 H St. NW. "I'll probably buy a new car -- I'm partial to Chevrolets," said the 45-year-old building engineer. Smiling in disbelief, he said that he had played the Maryland lottery games a few times, but that "I'll play D.C. It's handy now." Of his $8,000 check, he predicted he would "probably lose it all back."
Bethea, a widow and the mother of three grown children, told lottery board officials she lives on a Social Security pension. She bought a ticket yesterday morning at a liquor store at 20th and I streets NW, took it to her northwest Washington home, and scratched off the coating to find the amount $10,000 printed three times.
Since the figures were not all in a row, according to lottery board spokesman Alex Exum, she decided the ticket was worthless. In truth, it does not matter whether the numbers are in a row.
Eventually Bethea went back to the store to buy another ticket, Exum said, and a store worker happened to check her first ticket and discover it was a winner. Exum said Bethea was ecstatic about her winnings, and said she intended to use the money to buy a new kidney for her son, who needs a transplant.
Some who played the lottery yesterday said it just added more fun to gambling. Lloyd Jones, a Lorton prison guard who lives in Virginia, sauntered into South Capitol Liquors on Southern Avenue yesterday just to buy D.C. lottery tickets. He had just returned from his daily drive into Maryland to play the daily numbers game there.
Jones leaned on the counter watching other customers as he tried to decide how many tickets to buy. "I'll try D.C. one time," he said with a wink, and bought five tickets, which he tucked into his pocket.
"I like the numbers better -- these things are too easy," he said. But when the city-run daily numbers game comes to Washington next year, Jones said, he'll start playing the numbers in town: "It's easier for me to play in D.C."