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Paul Seago: Florida Lottery should be constrained, not expanded

During the upcoming Legislative Session there will be bills dealing with the Florida Lottery that can take the lottery in very different directions. One would bring sanity to an out-of-control form of gambling, while the other would allow people to finance their gambling addiction on credit – a dangerous direction for our state.

Today’s lottery is far different from the vision sold to Floridians in order to pass it in 1986. That vision was a once-a-week drawing just before the 11 o’clock news on Saturday nights.

Since that approval, there has been an explosion in the number of the games. In fact, there are now seven different Lotto-style games with multiple drawings every week.

But like every other form of gambling, the Lottery is based on maximizing player losses. So it moved on to one of the most addictive forms of gambling: the instant scratch-off game.

The first such scratch-off game appeared in 1988, and since then there have been more than 1,000 scratch-off games introduced, according to the Florida lottery website.

Seventy-five games are now listed as active. Those scratch-off game tickets range in price from $1 to as much as $25 each and  promise large, immediate and higher percentage payouts. Any gambling expert will tell you that is a recipe for creating more problem gamblers

Lotteries disproportionately target lower-income individuals, who are more prone to become problem gamblers. As it was once put, they “make poor people poorer.”

That makes proposed legislation, Senate Bill 402  by Sen. Garrett Richter and House Bill 415 by Rep. Holly Raschein,  that would allow players to gamble using their credit cards particularly troublesome.

Is the state of Florida really going to get into the business of encouraging people who cannot afford it to rack up gambling debt on credit cards, then compound their losses with interest rates, fees and penalties?

The breath of fresh air on this issue is a pair of bills that would restore some sanity to this ever-expanding form of gambling. Those bills are Senate Bill 790 by Sen. Tom Lee and House Bill 607 by Rep. Frank Artiles.  Those bills would limit the number of scratch-off games to no more than 20 total and the sales price could not exceed $5.

State sponsorship of a form of gambling that disproportionately affects the poor is bad enough, to allow poor people to finance their addiction at 22 to 28 percent interest is deplorable. Legislators should support efforts to constrain the lottery, not expand it.

Paul Seago is executive director of Nocasinos.org

For more state and national commentary visit Context Florida.

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