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Going after gamblers

Post by Cheryl Tucker on April 30, 2009 at 9:55 am |
April 30, 2009 9:55 am

This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.

State shouldn’t up the ante for problem gamblers

Parents of impressionable children, beware: If a pilot program now under way is successful, an advertising blitz for state-sponsored gambling could be coming to your neighborhood convenience store.

The “Enhanced Lottery Retailer” merchandising campaign at five mini-marts in the South Sound area includes brightly colored placards, eye-catching signs advertising jackpot sizes, new dispensers and other features designed to spur impulse purchases of scratch lottery tickets.

Come in for coffee and a pepperoni stick, leave with a few lottery tickets. And the kids can be entertained by checking out all the flashy scratch games available, including “Black Pearls,” “Hot Bingo” and “Rich for Life.”

Giving people an extra nudge to buy lottery tickets would be unseemly during good times. But during bad times, when people are more desperate than ever for an economic boost and may be more susceptible to a glitzy marketing campaign, it’s just wrong. And it’s sure to push the buttons of any problem gambler who walks in the door.

Can there be any doubt that the compulsive gambler is the main target of this ad campaign? Even the lottery’s own Web site notes that scratch games provide “instant gratification” – the drug of choice for all addicts, including problem gamblers.

If the pilot program proves successful in selling 20 percent more tickets than usual over the next three months at the five test locations, the state will pay up to $832,500 to expand the marketing campaign to 45 more stores. So far, retailers at those test sites are reporting significantly higher sales.

A 1999 Duke University study found that low-income people spend the most per capita on lottery tickets. Although some argue that people who want to gamble will find ways to do it, the early success of the merchandising campaign suggests that it’s possible to wring more money out of people than they otherwise might have spent. And many of those people are the ones who can least afford to spend extra on scratch tickets.

It’s bad enough that the state is in the gambling business. It shouldn’t be shilling any more than it already is.

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