The Seductive Lure of Instant Cash

DALE R. SOUTH

October 09, 1992|By DALE R. SOUTH

In our quest of ever-more-instant gratification, the Maryland lottery officials have come to the rescue.

For those who cannot brook the delay of waiting hours or days to find out if their numbers are winners, Quick Draw is reportedly just around the corner. Winning numbers will be announced within the hour they are bought. Lottery officials and Governor Schaefer anticipate that the new game will generate $100 million a year.

Quick Draw and other state-sponsored games are marketed as win-win propositions for both the state and the players. In biology this type of arrangement is known as symbiotic. Webster defines ''symbiosis'' as: ''The living together of two dissimilar organisms in close association or union, especially where this is advantageous to both.''

But are lottery games really win-win propositions? Are the state and lottery players involved in a symbiotic relationship, in which everyone benefits, or a parasitic one? Webster: ''Parasite -- a plant or animal that lives on or within another organism, from which it derives sustenance or protection without making compensation.''

Compensation is made, the state insists. Some individuals are direct money winners, and all Marylanders benefit from services provided through lottery revenues. If there were a state flea commission, it would undoubtedly market itself as a service to dogs and cats in which the fleas benefit, too, through exposure to the discipline of ''survival-of-the-fittest.''

Lotteries have been shown to be regressive taxes drawing money away from the lowest income groups.

People earning less than $10,000 annually buy more Maryland lottery tickets than any other income group. The new Quick Draw game purports to target the relatively underrepresented market of white-collar professionals. But results from a similar game in Oregon find that most players are young blue-collar men with less education than even the average lottery player.

How does government manage to promote and produce such a scheme? As anti-tax sentiment has swelled, lotteries have become the salvation of politicians loath either to raise taxes or cut spending.

In 1980, 14 state lotteries raised total revenues of $2.3 billion. By 1990, 33 state lotteries took in $20 billion. The federal government is exploring taking a piece of the action through a national lottery.

The lottery players and the state officials are alike in one respect: Both are after instant gratification. The players smoke the pipe dream of wealth without effort, the politicos that of budgetary fixes without fiscal discipline. Like weight loss without dieting, Schwarzenegger bodies without exercising, lotteries promise revenues without political pain.

Addiction breeds addiction. Government will continue to spend, and lottery players to play. The Quick Draw game will be played mostly in bars. It will prey on two particularly damaging addictions, alcoholism and compulsive gambling.

It is not just the gamblers who will lose. Their families and the state will lose. From a cost-benefit analysis, the costs to society for treatment, rehabilitation, lost productivity and lost income associated with the addictions of gambling and alcoholism are astronomical -- far greater than revenues generated by lotteries.

Denial is what allows any addictive behavior to continue. It is time Governor Schaefer and the people of Maryland come out of denial. Quick Draw is not a win-win situation. It is lose-lose. Gamblers lose, families lose, employers lose, the state loses and ultimately governing officials lose.

It is not a symbiotic relationship, but a parasitic one, in which one group of addicts lives off another group of addicts.

Dale R. South, a Baptist minister, writes from Glen Arm.

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