Gov. Andrew Cuomo is betting on betting -- an expansion of Quick Draw and siting of three upstate casinos -- to help rescue New York state from its financial troubles. It's a losing bet.
The governor proposes expanding the Quick Draw lottery game to convenience stores, by eliminating the requirement that the game be offered only in places that serve alcohol and are bigger than 2,500 square feet.
This is the final frontier in a gradual expansion of the numbers game some critics have called "video crack" for its addictiveness. Players watch a video screen to see if their numbers come up. If they win, the payouts range from $1 to $100,000. If they lose, they can try again. And again. And again. There's a new game every four minutes.
Quick Draw started in 1995 as a game you could play only 13 hours a day, and only in places that served food and alcohol and were bigger than 2,500 square feet. That was supposed to limit access for compulsive gamblers and minors.
In its first year, Quick Draw players bet more than $580 million. Revenues dipped to $424 million in 2001. In recent years, the state removed the food requirement and expanded Quick Draw hours to nearly around the clock to counter sagging sales. Last year, the game drew $502 million in wagers, $124.5 million of which was targeted for education. The proposal to expand Quick Draw further to anywhere lottery tickets are sold is expected to generate an extra $24 million for the state.
Yet as Quick Draw has grown, funding for treatment of gambling addictions has not, according to the New York Council on Problem Gambling. If the state is determined to expand Quick Draw, the least it could do is target more money for treating compulsive gamblers.
Supporters like to focus on the lottery's mission of raising money for education. Yet it's a bit of a red herring. Yes, the money does go to education -- but it's not extra money. It offsets school aid that otherwise would come from taxpayers. Instead, it comes from the small slice of the population who play the lottery -- the people least likely to be able to afford it. Lotteries prey on lower-income people who chase after the dream of hitting the jackpot. With Quick Draw available on every corner, that temptation will be even greater.
Cuomo's plan to allow three casinos in Upstate New York is similarly flawed. The state should not be in the business of encouraging its residents to gamble more. The social costs outweigh the benefits.
-- The Syracuse Post-Standard