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Barbara Lombardo of Saratoga Springs, NY, is a journalism adjunct at University at Albany and retired executive editor of The Saratogian, The Record and the Community News. Follow her on Twitter @Barb_Lombardo.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Government’s role isn’t to push gambling

The eagerness and avarice with which politicians raise public money through lotteries has always made me a bit queasy. And Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s proposal to lease some of New York’s lottery operations to the private sector leaves me even more unsettled.

Over the years, government went from banning illegal numbers running to going into the lottery business itself, big-time. Rolls of snazzy scratch-off tickets beckon from the counter at convenient stores, commercials urge citizens to drop a dollar for a dream, and big deals are made about ordinary folks who’ve become instant millionaires.

Now, New York is looking at returning to private operation of at least some lotteries. This time, however, government intends to keep a major cut of the operation. Unlike backroom bookies, it will work with billionaire business people who would supposedly be able to increase lottery revenue (and, of course, their own profits).

How will they do it? By getting you to gamble more.

State lotteries are a regressive volunteer tax camouflaged as a way to raise more money for school aid. It is shameful to promote gambling under the guise of supporting education.

I am not against gambling. That would be a bit disingenuous coming from a 30-year resident raising a family in a city whose economic lifeblood is horse racing.

That said, I’m not much of any kind of gambler. At the racetrack, I drop a few bucks on exactas based on names and birthdays, all part of the day’s entertainment. The office pool is the only thing that interests me in the Super Bowl. I’ve tucked a scratch-off or two in a birthday card, and enjoy receiving them. And I’ve thrown a buck now and then into the pot when there’s a gazillion-dollar payoff, rather than be the only employee left in the building after Yolanda Vega calls our number.

However, “playing” a game is supposed to be fun. Though the prospect of a big payoff is tantalizing, I’ve never been one to stomach the risk of losing more than a couple of bucks.

There’s no doubt that lotteries are extremely profitable, and I can’t argue that anyone is forced to play. Still, government getting into the act of encouraging gambling has always rubbed me the wrong way. It just doesn’t seem right, as a society, to push gambling.

Yet just about every state government has gotten into the act, and a few in addition to New York are looking at leasing lottery operations as a way to make even more money.

So who would make out in this deal? A New York official said a key element of any proposal would be protection of the 350 existing lottery-related jobs. So there’d be no savings in state payroll. And a way to increase revenue would be to improve financial incentives of the ticket-sellers.

Government is supposed to provide services for the public good, at a cost that does not include making a profit. The private sector may be more efficient at some things; but all we can say for sure is that they’re less accountable. Here’s a safe bet: the private sector is interested only because it stands to make a hefty profit. And who’s paying for all of this? Check your pockets.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The man who robbed the ATC Bank and was sentenced to 10 years in jail probably had some kind of gambling addiction. We can only surmise this because he robbed the bank after cashing and losing his paycheck at the Racino.
More recently, there was lady who was sentenced to a 4-12 years in prison because she stole 400k in payroll taxes from several local businesses. More than likely she either has a drug or gambling addition.

No pun intended, but I would say that it would be a “safe bet” to assume that many of the embezzlement and robbery type of crimes that are reported by your paper are the result of a gambling addiction.
I would assume it would be fairly easy for a reporter to find out why these individuals committed these crimes.

If, as you say, all of this gambling makes you feel uneasy why don’t you start doing some in depth reporting on all of economic damage that gambling is inflicting on society?

January 24, 2008 at 11:26 AM 

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