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Conn. Game Another state’s lottery offers sobering lessons for Texas BY MIKE THOMAS “Gambling is actually the most regressive form of taxation that can be devised. It is designed to pick the pockets of the poor,” late Texas Congressman Wright Patman Branford, Connecticut 0 NE MORNING ON my way to work I pulled into one of those tiny gas and food stores. At $1.26 a gallon they seemed to have the cheapest gas in all of New England. After filling up I walked into the cluttered little store and saw a girl behind the counter busily scratching with a coin at what looked like a football ticket. “What is that?” I asked. A little embarrassed, she explained that it was an instant lottery ticket. The ticket had “Classic Connecticut” printed across the front of it with a picture of the historic old statehouse building in Hartford. “I never win anything,” she said. “I don’t know why I keep playing, but there is another girl who works here and she won $1,000 once.” “I just moved here from Texas,” I said. “Texas doesn’t have a lottery. How much are those tickets?” “One dollar,” she said. I paid for my gas and left. Connecticut has been running its state lottery for more than 18 years now. The Division of Special Revenue, which oversees all of the state’s gambling operations, reports that the lottery has grossed more than $4.1 billion since its inception. Approximately $1.7 billion has been transferred to the state’s treasury. But despite this “easy” money, Connecticut faces a budget crisis even worse than the one in Texas. Connecticut’s projected budget deficit is over $3 billion. It’s hard to find lottery tickets in the wealthier parts of Connecticut, but when you go out into the poorer areas then suddenly every little run-down gas station, liquor store and grocery mart has a sign in its window that proclaims, “Connecticut Lotto You Can’t Win If You Don’t Play.” Of course, you can’t lose either, and that is what most lottery players do most of the time. According to ConsumerResearch magazine, lotteries have the lowest odds of winning of any form of gambling. State lottery officials report that the odds for winning something in the lottery are one in 30, but these are the odds for winning the smallest and most common prize of $3. A person who plays the lottery on a regular basis will likely spend a $3 prize on more lottery tickets. To win the really big money, the odds are more like 13 million to one. Since most people can’t make sense of odds that high, lottery critics once tried to point out that by comparison the odds of a person being killed by a bolt of lightning are only 400,000 to one. The lottery industry later made light of this information by making a commercial in which an actor is struck by lightning right before winning the big jackpot. Last April a man in South Windsor, Conn., won $3,600 in the lottery. The local media went out to interview him as they do every person who wins a big lottery prize, but instead of finding the typical happy, giddy winner, they found that this man was bitter and angry. It seems that he had been playing the lottery for 10 years and he had a habit of always throwing his losing lottery tickets into a crumpled paper bag. This was the first time he had ever won a substantial prize and out of curiosity he decided to go back and .see how many losing tickets he had collected. There were 10,000 of them. He said he felt like a sucker. Former Texan Mike Thomas is a writer who lives in Connecticut. MIKE THOMAS Bushy Hill Market in Branford, Conn. one of about 2,600 lottery agents with an on-line system Every outlet that sells lottery tickets is set up with an on-line computer terminal, which is hooked into the main lottery computer system and allows the state to keep track of when and where every ticket is sold and announce simultaneously to every distributor what the winning numbers were. These computer systems are made by companies like G-tech of Rhode Island and Scientific Games, a subsidiary of Bally Manufacturing of Atlanta. It is no accident that these same companies are also the biggest lobbyists for the expansion of lotteries into non-lottery states like Texas. Pro-lottery companies have hired some big-name political figures, such as former Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes and former state Sen. Kent Caperton, to press their case at the Capitol. In 1977, Connecticut commissioned Mark Abrahamson, a sociology professor from the University of Connecticut, to study the state’s gambling operations. Abrahamson’s study found that most forms of legalized gambling, including the lottery, were largely ignored by persons with college degrees and yearly incomes in excess of $25,000. Abrahamson concluded that Connecticut’s state lottery “primarily attracts poor, long-term, unemployed and less-educated participants. It generates revenues in a regressive manner and should be discontinued.” The study was not well-received at the state’s lottery bureau, and John Winchester, the lottery director at the time, wrote a 25-page rebuttal that harshly criticized Abrahamson and his study, which was for the most part ignored by the state’s legislature. A few years later a new study was commissioned, this time to be carried out by Economics Research Associates of Los Angeles, a company which had done many similar studies for other states with legalized gambling operations. That study whitewashed most of the concerns brought out in Abrahamson’s study. AMBLING IS STILL controversial in Connecticut, but not the lottery. The lottery has become matter-of-fact, commonplace and ingrained into society. Lottery revenues long ago were absorbed into the state’s bloated bureaucracy and now the state is hungry for more. The question of right or wrong has long been forgotten and the only issue now is how much money can be made. The state legislature THE TEXAS OBSERVER 11