- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 20, 2008

If you’re inclined to gamble on the Nationals this season — whether to have a winning record, finish first (gasp!) in the National League East or merely show up — there’s a nice, inexpensive way to do it. Simply fork over $2 of your hard-earned money and buy a D.C. or Virginia scratch-off lottery ticket.

For the first time, the two jurisdictions simultaneously will peddle tickets sanctioned by Major League Baseball and the ballclub and adorned with an artist’s rendition of brand-new Nationals Park. Even if you don’t win anything, the handsome horizontal pasteboards should make a neat souvenir.

Now, I’m not in the business of selling — or buying — lottery tickets, but this is a good deal all around. Nearly everyone can afford the meager expenditure, and one-third of the proceeds goes toward funding education programs in the city and Northern Virginia.

This is not an inconsiderable aspect. Over 25 years, the D.C. Lottery and Charitable Games Control Board has transferred $1.4 billion to the city’s general welfare fund. And over 19 years, the Virginia Lottery has contributed more than $3.4 billion to public schools in the commonwealth.

All of us daydream about winning the lottery and $50 million or trillion. The stakes and rewards aren’t that high here — individual payouts will range from $2 to $5,000 — yet each participant will have multiple chances to win something or other. About 64 percent of collected revenues will go toward prizes in the District, and one-third will be dumped into its educational coffers.

Besides, even losers can rebound. Players may submit nonwinning tickets via Internet, text message or snail mail to a “second-chance” drawing for Nationals merchandise and tickets to games at the park.

Some of the latter will be for seats in the presidential suite behind home plate. Heck, maybe even candidates John McCain, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton could luck out here. It figures to be the only way two of them ever will see the presidential suite.

Tickets will be available at your neighborhood convenience store and elsewhere, including Nationals Park, beginning March 27, three days before Opening Night. The Virginia drawing will be May 27. D.C. will hold drawings on May 14 and Aug. 28.

Although the D.C. folks have staged previous promotions involving the Redskins and Wizards, this is an unusual case of two jurisdictions mounting a joint instant-ticket effort. (The Maryland Lottery couldn’t make it a threesome because it has a working agreement with the Baltimore Orioles.)

“Such co-operation is extremely rare,” said D.C. Lottery sales director Billy Parson, who hatched the scheme. “We started conversations with Virginia in January because we felt the Nationals had a joint constituency in both areas, but this might be only the second time in the country [for two jurisdictions to offer the same promotion].”

D.C. Lottery executive director Jeanette Michael called the joint promotion “exciting” and “unique,” adding, “We’ve come together [with Virginia] in so many other areas. Why not baseball?”

Parson says the D.C. Lottery has printed 360,000 tickets but hopes to need a lot more.

“We had a Negro League promotion in 2005 that sold 480,000, the largest total ever for us, and we could top that,” he said. “If we do a second printing, it would double the total of tickets, meaning 720,000.”

In the spring, you see, all baseball-related goals seem possible.

So take a chance, literally. Even if you don’t win, you and your city or state won’t lose.

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