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Lottery Leader Advises Against Enticing Poor

Times Staff Writer

Poor Californians should not be enticed into buying lottery tickets with money that should go for food and other essentials, the chairman of the state Lottery Commission said Wednesday.

“We don’t want to take money needed for the necessities of life, but rather discretionary income,” Howard Varner said in encouraging the commission to investigate charges that the state’s new gambling venture is pushing instant game tickets on people who cannot afford them.

There are numerous lottery retailers in low-income areas. Among the most popular are check cashing outlets where federal food stamps also are dispensed.

Varner told the commission, meeting in Sacramento, that he wants lottery sales representatives to contact ticket retailers catering to welfare recipients and urge them not to promote sales to the poor.

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“We should talk to our retailers . . . and tell them we are not trying to get income from these folks,” Varner said.

Cannot Force Compliance

Varner noted, however, that the commission cannot force retailers to comply with such demands as long as they meet other requirements for selling tickets, such as being open a certain number of hours and serving an adequate number of customers.

Varner’s call for a staff investigation of ticket sales to the poor was met with some skepticism by other lottery officials.

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“What do you do with people like that (who spend food money on lottery tickets)?” asked Commissioner Kennard Webster. “People with bad judgment are going to exercise that judgment, and there’s not much we can do about it. . . . I don’t think the federal government has been successful in influencing food stamp holders to limit their food purchases to that which is nutritional.”

The lottery’s deputy director, Chon Gutierrez, added that “due process issues” must be considered, such as the retailer’s right to sell to whomever he choses and the right of people with low incomes to spend their money as they wish.

The commission will discuss the sales further at its Nov. 15 meeting.

No Price Breaks

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In other matters, the commission voted to prohibit lottery tickets from being sold for less than $1. A Vernon-based chain, 99 Cents Only Stores, has gone to court to try to force the lottery to let it sell tickets for 99 cents.

At the same time, commissioners approved giveaways of lottery tickets for promotional purposes, sanctioning such practices as offering free tickets for listening to a sales pitch or for going into a store. The commission also agreed to allow giveaways for a minimum purchase, such as one free ticket for a 12-pack of soda.


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