States Take a Big Gamble

States pressed by dwindling revenues are on the lookout for any new source of income. Unfortunately, many states resort to new versions of what has now become a tiresomely old source of money: gambling.

Maryland, for example, has just joined a few other states looking into forming mega-lotteries including even foreign countries. The idea, presumably, is: The bigger the game, the bigger the pot and the more people can be lured into buying a ticket - no matter how vast the odds against winning.

New York has passed a law greatly expanding its gaming enterprises. Casinos will be allowed, as will New York joining in multistate lotteries.

Yes, lottery profits typically go to good causes, from education to health services for the elderly. But the cost side of that balance sheet is rarely calculated - the millions of families, often poor, who lose precious cash to feed the lottery habit.

And running the lotteries fairly, keeping track of revenues, and averting fraud can be a problem, too. California is offering players a new game without the purchase of tickets to make up for a game last year when millions of tickets were sold after prizes had already been given out.

On balance, gambling is an irresponsible way for governments to raise money. It plays on human weaknesses, impoverishes many people, and sends the wrong message that life is ruled by chance.

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