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PLATFORM : The California Lottery: A Bad Bet

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The lottery is coming home to roost. All of the promises of what it would do for California are falling by the wayside, amid a clutter of diminished interest, questionable diversion of funds that formerly went to education and hints of corruption involving massive campaign contributions to legislators in consideration of votes favorable to GTECH, the lottery’s computer system vendor.

Receipts in 1991-92 may drop to $1.5 billion, down 42% from a 1988-89 high of $2.6 billion. Why? In a remarkably honest statement before the Assembly General Operations Committee, the director of the lottery, Sharon Sharp, said: “A lot of people in California have played the lottery, have failed to win prizes and have stopped buying tickets.” Exactly! Californians by the thousands have come to realize what opponents of the lottery said from the start--that it’s a bad bet.

The Lottery Commission has approved a “loan” of $7 million dollars of lottery interest earnings, funds that previously went to education, to be used to beef up prizes in order to lure more players. State Controller Gray Davis has questioned the propriety of this action. Whether it is illegal or not, it clearly represents an erosion of the original lofty goals of helping education.

In 1986, GTECH gave $305,000 to key legislators with the clear intention of influencing votes. Less obvious, but more insidious, is the lottery’s policy of buying major blocs of TV advertising. The result, with a few notable exceptions, is the remarkable docility of TV stations and their unwillingness to explore any of the negative aspects of the lottery, even in the face of current revelations.

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At a recent hearing in Sacramento, Sharp stated, “The California Lottery, if it were 1a corporation, would be in Chapter 11 right now.” The California Lottery has been in moral bankruptcy from its inception, and its demise should be welcomed by all Californians.


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