Could state lottery success spawn supersize US numbers game?

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

State lotteries have become the golden goose of the 1980s. The lotteries are showering gold on the states. Billions of dollars in new tax revenues, plucked from the public without any hissing, are filling state coffers and funding a wide range of programs.

Now Uncle Sam, up to his chin whiskers in debt, is casting his eye toward all that new-found gold. A number of congressmen want Washington to launch a national lottery, which, they claim, could quickly and painlessly raise several billion dollars a year.

In this deficit-worried town, that sounds pretty good to some people.

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State officials, however, fret that a national lottery would kill their golden goose. Lottery revenues have been rising by 30 percent or more a year, but the states know there is a limit. At the same time, state governors and legislators have become very dependent on lottery gold.

In Ohio, the state lottery is now the second-largest source of taxes, according to a study by Gaming & Wagering Business magazine. Lotteries are the third-largest source of income in Maryland, Michigan, and Illinois, and the fourth largest in New Jersey.

This has surprised the experts. In 1976, a major federal study of gambling concluded that the potential to raise revenues through lotteries was modest: ``It would be futile for state policymakers to look to lotteries as a substitute for traditional forms of taxation,'' the study concluded.

That was wrong. Last year, Pennsylvania raised more than $500 million from lotteries, New York about $400 million, Illinois about $380 million.

To ensure the continued popularity of the lotteries, the proceeds are often promised to worthy causes. Colorado's lottery profits go to state parks, Pennsylvania's go to senior citizens, Arizona's to transportation, and Massachusetts' to local aid. Rep. Thomas A. Luken (D) of Ohio sees a lesson in this for Washington. ``If you wanted to popularize a national lottery, [give] the proceeds to social security,'' he says. ``Anything for the elderly is popular with the general population.''

The public appears very receptive to the idea of a national lottery, according to a Gallup poll taken last year for Gaming & Wagering Business. Gallup found that by a 62-to-26 margin, people at present favor some form of a national lottery.

Support was strongest among the wealthy (68 percent to 20 percent) and weakest among those with low incomes (45 to 33). Men were more strongly in favor of a lottery (67 to 24) than were women (59 to 27).

Despite such support, there are several reasons that supporters like Representative Luken feel a national lottery is still some time away.

Probably most important, Luken says, is strong resistance in areas that have objected to lotteries for moral or religious reasons.

Utah, with a population largely made up of Mormons, probably will never vote in favor of any form of gambling, a number of experts say. Resistance is also expected to continue strong in the South's Bible belt.

Congressmen from those areas ``are going to take a great deal of convincing,'' Luken says.

Another source of resistance: governors and legislators who now rely on lottery revenues.

Advocates of a national lottery often argue that state lotteries could thrive side by side with one conducted by Washington.

But few supporters of state lotteries seem to believe that. Duane V. Burke, chairman and president of Public Gaming Research Institute, argues that a national lottery would eventually kill the state lotteries.

``The federal government,'' he says, ``has resources so far superior to those of even the largest state that should a federal lottery become an aggressive part of federal revenue-raising policy, [it] could . . . put the states out of that business.''

A third area of concern about a federal lottery: How would it work?

Would the lottery be held once a year? Some members of Congress favor that approach. Would it be tied to some sporting event, such as the Kentucky Derby? Or would it take some other form, such as a three-digit number? Should there eventually be daily ``instant'' games? Would there be $10 million or $20 million weekly jackpots, as in some states?

How would tickets be sold? Would Washington set up national lottery offices in every city in the United States? Would tickets be sold through groceries and drugstores, as in some states? Would they be sold over the phone, with a nationwide 800 number?

Who could buy them? Would you have to be at least 18 years old? Or 21? Could you buy tickets with your credit card? With welfare money? With unemployment compensation? Would there be a limit on how many tickets a person could buy in one day, or one year, to prevent abuse?

Would Washington advertise its lottery on television? In newspapers? What would the money be used for? Social security? Education? Welfare? Defense?

Should there be some kind of revenue-sharing setup with the states? Should the states, which already have people who know how lotteries work, run a national lottery for Washington? Should a national lottery be operated only in those states that want it?

There are so many questions that some members of Congress concede they are confused by the lottery issue.

There is also doubt about how much a national lottery could raise. Supporters claim the ``take'' from a federal lottery could quickly rise to as much as $8 billion a year -- enough to make at least a small dent in the federal deficit.

Critics doubt that kind of revenue is possible unless the states are driven completely out of the business.

What is perhaps most important in this new debate, some experts say, is the apparent willingness of the American public in 1985 to consider additional legalized gambling, even at the national level.

Anthony J. Parrillo, deputy director of the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement, notes that much of the public now seems to accept legalized gambling as ``legitimate entertainment.''

That is the change which is fueling the interest in a national lottery, and which could eventually bring such a lottery into business.

Seventh of eight articles. Next: fighting the lotteries. CHART: Attitudes toward a national lottery. QUESTION: Do you approve or disapprove of a national lottery to be held once a year and sponsored by the US government?

----Education---- -------Income----------

Male Female Coll. H.S. Non- Over $20K $10K Under

% % Grad Grad H.S. $30K to to $10K

Grad. $30K $20K APPROVE 56 48 56 55 40 56 56 52 39 DISAPPROVE 35 38 34 34 45 33 33 40 41 Others are ``don't know.'' Source: 1984 Gallup poll for Gaming & Wagering Business magazine. -- 30 --{et

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