It Could Be You But It Probably Won't

June 16, 1991|By PATRICK A. MCGUIRE

Remember the weekend they drew the winning number for that $11 million Lotto jackpot? It was an especially bad one for a woman we'll call Iris.

Her father was a drug addict bookmaker; her mother is still hooked on bingo games. Since her inner-city Baltimore childhood, Iris has been playing poker and betting on horses. But whether she went to the track or found a game of cards, she always played the lottery, betting between $30 and $100 a day for as long as she can remember.

She smiles when she hears that the lottery isn't supposed to be addictive because it hasn't the pace of the horses or casino games. She found her own way to inject the action. She would invariably jump into line and buy her tickets at the last possible minute before the daily numbers were selected on television. It ,, was almost like the challenge of the track where you see people rushing to the windows at the last second.

She liked the three-digit and four-digit games, betting from a set list of numbers -- birthdays, the number of the highway she took to work each day, numbers plucked from the endless, tortured lottery dreams that gave her no rest.

Two years ago her she had run up gambling debts of $50,000 and she filed for bankruptcy, although it didn't stop her from quickly going another $20,000 in the hole with new gambling losses. But it did convince her to enter Taylor Manor Hospital's program for compulsive gamblers. Combined with her enrollment Gambler's Anonymous, Iris felt she was on the road to recovery.

She got out of the hospital, though, while the second highest jackpot in the eight-year history of the Maryland Lottery's Lotto game was being heavily promoted on radio and television. That, combined with the Preakness Stakes race being run the same day at Pimlico Race Course, nearly wrecked it for her.

"I was getting urges, believe me," she says, sitting at a picnic table on the grounds of Taylor Manor in Ellicott City. "It was on my mind all day long. I love to go to the track, and at GA they tell you not to tempt yourself. That was the hardest part about the lottery. Every store I went in there was a lottery machine. Or an ad in great big letters: LOTTO. PLAY HERE. I kept telephoning GA. They said don't go into stores with lottery machines. But how many stores don't have them? I just wanted to win that $11 million. If I'd won I would probably have bought cars and houses for my family but I'd have $10 million left and it would be like OD'ing. I'd gamble it away. It's the action. A way of punishing yourself." MEANWHILE, THE BIG GUY in the one piece, top-to-bottom blue coveralls with "Dave" written in red script above the heart sits uncomfortably on a tiny chair in the claims office of the Maryland lottery agency. In his hands he holds a clipboard, a ballpoint pen and, of course, his tickets.

No millionaire here, just the air of a few hundred bucks. But, hey, a winner's a winner.

"Why do I play the lottery?" He chuckles, shaking his head. "Whenever people ask me that I say, 'Why do people smoke cigarettes? Why do people drink?' I don't drink and I don't smoke. I work 75 hours a week and I play the lottery every day. I play Pick 3 and Pick 4 and Lotto. I play the same numbers every day. Why not? The lottery don't have no memory. I win about once a month. Why do I play? Because I can't wait to get home and find out 'Did I hit tonight?' "

He pauses to scribble some numbers on his claim form. He looks up.

"To me it's like a hobby."

It's like a hobby.

Without a doubt, somewhere down the hallway and around a dozen or so corners of the maze of these lottery offices in the northern end of the Reisterstown Road Plaza, Marty Goldman is cocking his ear and smiling.

The one-time marketing director of Robert Irsay's Baltimore Colts, Mr. Goldman left the banking business a year ago to take over the marketing of the state's lottery. Until then he knew nothing of the lottery business, had hardly even played the game himself. The first thing he did was go down to the claims office and talk to players like Dave.

"And once I talked to the players," he grins, "I saw that's what the lottery really is. A mode of entertainment. I've had people tell me, 'If I win, this is what I'm going to do.' From a marketing perspective that's great stuff. When they buy the ticket they are instantly dreaming. And I try to market that specifically."

That he's been successful is evident in the numbers. Lottery ticket sales have increased by about 4 percent in the first few months of this fiscal year. In a year rocked by recession and budget shortfalls, not many other departments can claim that kind of an increase.

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