If a lottery is encouraging addictive gambling, don’t expand it!

February 21, 2013

(This article was originally published at Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science, and syndicated at StatsBlogs.)

This story from Vivian Yee seems just horrible to me. First the background:

Pronto Lotto’s real business takes place in the carpeted, hushed area where its most devoted customers watch video screens from a scattering of tall silver tables, hour after hour, day after day.

The players — mostly men, about a dozen at any given time — come on their lunch breaks or after work to study the screens, which are programmed with the Quick Draw lottery game, and flash a new set of winning numbers every four minutes. They have helped make Pronto Lotto the top Quick Draw vendor in the state, selling $3.3 million worth of tickets last year, more than $1 million more than the second busiest location, a World Books shop in Penn Station.

Some stay for just a few minutes. Others play for the length of a workday, repeatedly traversing the few yards between their seats and the cash register as they hand the next wager to a clerk with a dollar bill or two, and return to wait.

“It’s like my job, 24 hours,” Pablo Martinez, 42, joked to an employee on a recent afternoon, flicking yet another losing ticket into a trash can. He had been there since 10 a.m., and did not leave until dinnertime.

Then comes the kicker:

Quick Draw has been so popular since its introduction in New York in 1995 that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has proposed eliminating the last remaining restrictions on where the game can be played.

Say wha…? The program is successful fleecing money from addicts, so they want to expand it?? I understand the virtue of the state lottery as a legal alternative to mob-controlled gambling, but I’d think the best public policy would be to make it as unappealing as possible, subject to the constraint that it remains a legitimate alternative. The idea is to give the gambling addicts something to do that does the least damage to them. A sort of low-tar cigarette, if you will. If people start playing a state lottery obsessively, then it’s time to tweak it to make it less appealing to the addicts.

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