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Lottery players are big losers

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Here's one sure bet that political leaders should consider: Poorer, less-educated people cough up the lion's share of money for state lotteries. Of course, they are the ones who can least afford it.

That incriminating bit of evidence ought to shame government officials who tout state-sponsored games of chance as harmless ways to line public coffers. As with any other sponsor of gambling in its varied forms, the "house" never loses money. Were it so, sponsors would quickly close their doors.The big losers are those who put down large and small sums of money with the vain hope of hitting the jackpot. But for every occasional winner, there are thousands and even millions nationwide who are on the short end. Those losses range from small to significant. The brunt are absorbed by those in dire circumstances who are searching desperately for a quick way out that rarely, if ever, comes.

The latest indictment of lotteries comes from a credible research team's report to the National Gambling Impact Study Commission. It discovered that the top 5 percent of lottery spenders account for one-half of all sales. Moreover, 20 percent of participants provide 81 percent of total revenue. While about 50 percent of all Americans play lotteries, the highest spenders are those with the lowest educations and incomes.

Yet states continue to run deceptive advertising campaigns that do not disclose the long-shot odds of winning but instead emphasize how wonderfully a person's life would change with a jackpot. Those few that do disclose odds typically indicate the chances of winning "any cash prize" -- like $1. Those are much higher than collecting the heavily advertised big payouts.

For instance, odds for any cash prize are often about 1 in 35. But for large jackpots, they typically are in the vicinity of 1 in 14 million. That is especially misleading for people lacking the education to see through the hype.

Fortunately, Utah is one state that has resisted the ill-conceived lottery lure. It has proven that a broad-based, diversified economy based on sound economic principles enhances public life much more than any quick-fix scheme -- including lotteries. This state must stay that loftier course. Others would be wise to pursue the same.