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Online lotto tickets not a wise bet for Georgia residents

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POSTED: August 1, 2012 5:00 p.m.

The Georgia lottery has to be run like a business, and is under significant pressure to make continually more money for the state’s college and pre-kindergarten scholarships. We get that.

But when officials advocate making tickets available online by saying that lotteries “are one of the last industries not to offer our products digitally,” they’re being a little disingenuous.

Their “product” isn’t exactly a pair of socks or the latest DVD. It’s a gambling ticket. It’s gambling. And it’s potentially very addicting and very subject to abuse and very hazardous — not just to gamblers but to their loved ones.

Not every “product” should be made available digitally. This is one of them.

Good grief, time was that gambling was considered so dangerous and corrosive to society that one pretty much had to travel to Nevada or Atlantic City, N.J., to engage in it. Now we’re going to offer it on laptops?

Gov. Nathan Deal has opposed other forms of expanded gambling in Georgia. A developer, for instance, is pressuring the lottery board to approve what amounts to a lottery casino — a complex in Norcross where players could come in and play a variety of electronic games run by the Georgia Lottery.

So we were surprised and disappointed that the governor gave his blessing to the lottery’s plans for online ticket sales — which will begin late this year or next with a limited menu of Powerball, Mega Millions and Fantasy 5. An electronic version of instant-win tickets is coming down the road.

This is one product where convenience may not be such a good thing. If gambling must be available, it should require players to go a little out of their way, in order to protect not just themselves but society as a whole from the ill effects of compulsive gambling.

As opposed to most other products and businesses, the lottery business has the burden of being careful not to encourage irresponsibility and pathology. This burden is all the more acute because it’s the government offering this gambling. This is why you see the “play responsibly” warnings in its advertising.

Yet, you’ll never come across a more relentless industry than gambling. It works for years, if not decades, to get its nose under the tent. Once that’s accomplished, attempts to get more of the casino camel inside the tent never cease. One example from other states: When parimutuel betting was collapsing, the solution prescribed by many was casino-style gambling.

So even when gambling fails, they simply double-down. Every step along the way, we’re told it’s only a baby step. Indeed, Georgia Lottery president Margaret DeFrancisco admits that online ticket sales “will not be a huge piece of revenue.” So why do it, considering the societal costs of compulsive gambling? In many cases, states have provided gambling against their better judgment. There’s nothing that says it has to be super-convenient.

Fact is, it shouldn’t be.

 

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