I was recently contacted by the Grossman campaign, asking for my support for Steve’s bid for the corner office. I wrote back, telling Steve that, while I admire some of his successes as Treasurer, his handling of the Lottery — specifically, the Lottery’s shameless promotions without any regard for the issue of addiction — was upsetting and disappointing to me. I told him that I found the holiday campaign to buy Lottery tickets “for everyone on your list” particularly irresponsible. Instead, I will be voting for Don Berwick for, among other things, his stand against casinos and his support for a single-payer healthcare system.
Here is his answer:
Thanks for your heartfelt comments. As you probably know, the Treasurer of the Commonwealth is responsible for running the state lottery that was created more than 40 years ago. The profits the lottery generates are the single most important source of unrestricted local aid for all 351 cities and towns. The money goes for firefighters, police officers, senior centers, repairing roads and a variety of other important local priorities that improve the quality of life of all citizens. We spend a lot of time and money working to support those who are afflicted with gambling addiction. I am deeply concerned about excessive gambling in Massachusetts and will continue to do everything I can to put in place policies that will educate all citizens and help those who are gambling addicted. Best wishes for a happy and healthy New Year.
And here is my reply, in open-letter form:
Dear Treasurer Grossman,
I was going to leave my correspondence with you at your response to me. Then, as I was reading the Boston Globe online this morning, I was confronted with yet another flashy pop-up ad for the Lottery — again, with absolutely NO mention of addiction or where to go to get help with same. Instead, the utterly misleading advertisement spoke of percentages of “payouts,” but had NO warnings about playing responsibly or where to go to get help for gambling addiction. It’s a trap. And a well-baited one, at that.
You see, the subject of gambling and gambling addiction is much on my mind; I am a longtime resident of Plainville, where our Host Community consultant has projected a 44% increase in gambling addiction within 10 miles of Plainridge should Penn National be granted the casino license there. (http://www.plainville.ma.us/Pages/PlainvilleMA_EmerNews/S03C0E1F7-043140B1.1/Impacts%20on%20Citizens%20Report.pdf) I have educated myself about expanded gambling and have been a vocal opponent of predatory gambling in my town and in the commonwealth. As a lifelong Democrat who has been quite active in the Party, and as someone who supported and volunteered on your campaigns in the past, I had hoped for a response from you that was more than political pablum.
I stand by my original assertion that you — in your capacity as state treasurer — were irresponsible in flogging Lottery tickets as holiday gifts for “everyone on your list.” The advertisements did not include even a mention about using caution when giving a “gift” of Lottery tickets. Your assertion that you are ”deeply concerned about excessive gambling in Massachusetts” rings quite hollow after viewing and hearing those atrocious ads. (http://voicebunny.s3.amazonaws.com/rec/9b75d2_Pandora_Massachusetts%20State%20Lottery%20Commission_Jira-30993(VB2DCTJIG)_Spot2-1.mp3) (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6IEluyJ27FA)
You write that, “…the Treasurer of the Commonwealth is responsible for running the state lottery that was created more than 40 years ago.” Longevity and tenacity of a government policy doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s worthy or should continue. Just a few examples of bad government policies that hurt people and yet continued for many, many years: slavery, depriving women of the vote, “separate but equal” racial segregation, and government doctors experimenting on children, the mentally ill, poor patients, racial minorities, and prisoners. The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment — the infamous clinical study conducted by the U.S. Public Health Service to study the natural progression of untreated syphilis in rural African American (men who thought they were receiving free health care from the government) — went on for 40 years, as well. There were many, many people who thought those policies were a good idea, and who worked tenaciously to keep them in place. One frequently used argument was that a small number of people would suffer, but the results would benefit the public-at-large. Looking at those public policies now, who among us wouldn’t have stopped those atrocities if we’d had the chance? Even if we could save only one orphan, prisoner, or mentally ill patient from the horrors they experienced, even if we freed only one enslaved African — wouldn’t we put our very bodies between the perpetrators and the vulnerable? The fact that the Lottery has been in place for 40 years does not mean it’s good policy; it only means that there have been enough people in power to make sure it continues. Just like the policies listed above. Hardly something to be proud of.
As you know (or ought to), the money allotted to treat gamblers who are addicted to the Lottery, Keno, horse racing, and other forms of gambling is already not enough. Worse news, the amount the new casinos will eventually be required to pay each year toward problem gambling treatment has dropped by more than $20 million since Governor Patrick first rolled out his plans for casinos in 2007. Massachusetts legislators axed $560,000 from this fiscal year’s budget for the Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling, which, in turn, has put a big dent in the Council’s plans to prepare for the four casinos in the commonwealth. (http://www.telegram.com/article/20130324/NEWS/103249834/0)
Even if the amount of money for treatment and prevention approached the amount necessary to treat every citizen who needs treatment, none of the monies set aside can or will be applied to the actual costs of the damage done by people struggling with gambling addiction: bankruptcies, child neglect, divorce, job loss, foreclosures,
evictions, embezzlement, theft, arrests, homelessness … There are no sums set aside to feed or house families when a mother or father spends the grocery or rent money on gambling, or when an elder uses her savings or her limited income to buy Lottery tickets or to indulge in the “crack cocaine of gambling.” There is no money set aside to replace money lost in businesses when addicted employees resort to petty theft, when the addicted CEO loses the payroll, or to pay hospital bills resulting from domestic violence. There are no funds dedicated to help when a family member, addicted to gambling and drowning in debt, commits suicide. Yes, these things happen to a minority of our citizens. But it’s happening at our hands. How can we condone sacrificing a few for the enjoyment and enrichment of the many?
As for your claim that you will ”… do everything I can to put in place policies that will educate all citizens and help those who are gambling addicted,” I must ask: Why aren’t signs posted at every Lottery and Keno agent stating the actual chances of winning? Why doesn’t the state post signs that say there is no way to increase your chances of winning because Lottery and Keno are strictly games of chance? Why aren’t there signs telling people how to calculate what they’ve actually won: $WON – $$SPENT usually = $$$LOSSES. Signs with information to get help for gambling addiction should be at every single Lottery agent and Keno location and should be as big, colorful, and eye-catching as the signs to get people to buy “chances” on the Lottery. Why is the only mention of problem gambling on the Massachusetts Lottery website one tiny link at the very, very bottom of the page, at the very end of the line, which reads “Compulsive Gambling Help”? Why aren’t Lottery and Keno agents forced to cut people off after a certain amount of money is spent, the way bartenders are forced to cut drinkers off if they’ve had too much? Why don’t we have a self-exclusion list for the Lottery? Why? Why? Why? Because Massachusetts is addicted to gambling, to the billions of dollars it bilks from people who can’t afford to lose, who can’t keep themselves from gambling, or both. Somehow, your policies seem to fall woefully short of what is truly needed to “…educate all citizens and help those who are gambling addicted.”
To add insult to injury, problematic gambling is more common among people with alcohol use disorders compared with those without AUDs. This holds true for people in the general population and is even more pronounced among people receiving treatment. And yet, the commonwealth allows Lottery tickets to be sold and Keno to be played in places where alcohol is served, often with Lottery machines or Keno screens right in the bar. Worse yet, the state is poised to allow casinos to serve free and cheap drinks for 18-of-24 hours each day, 365 days a year — something NOT allowed in bars or restaurants. The link between alcohol disorders and gambling addiction has been studied and written about by scholars and health care providers around the world. Too bad it falls on deaf ears in the legislature and at the Lottery Commission. (http://www.ncrg.org/sites/default/files/uploads/docs/monographs/ncrgmonograph8_fnl.pdf)
Finally, it’s really the classism of legalized predatory gambling that’s central to the “success” of the Lottery, isn’t it? I am certain that a map of Lottery sales in Massachusetts would show that significantly more tickets are sold in poorer towns and neighborhoods than where, say, you live in Newton. (http://www.businessinsider.com/lottery-is-a-tax-on-the-poor-2012-4?op=1) Lotteries are a tax on the poor. Period. Meanwhile, Governor Patrick, Speaker DeLeo, Senate President Murray, and gambling commission Chair Crosby all say that they want expanded gambling in Massachusetts, as long as the casinos aren’t in their towns. In fact, the towns that have said yes to casino gambling are the poorer towns who feel they have no options, while the tonier towns (with the wherewithal to fund opposition campaigns) have said no. Just as the military is filled with young men and women from underserved, economically depressed areas who are usually the first to be sent to war, Massachusetts is allowing financially strapped towns and their residents to bear the burden of the Lottery and casinos, all to fill the state coffers while causing the least amount of pain and inconvenience to our more wealthy and powerful citizens.
And now the Massachusetts Lottery is standing on the brink of developing the Lottery for the internet! As your Online Products Task Force stated in its Final Report, December 13, 2012 ”The status quo is not a choice. If the Lottery does not enter this online market, other entrants – including commercial casinos, tribal casinos, commercial gaming companies and other states – will. And given the high per capita spending now and the fact that personal incomes are growing modestly at best, the inevitable consequence would be that those new entrants would cannibalize Lottery sales, putting at risk local aid.”
Government sponsored predatory gambling has failed to expand the middle class and has driven citizens deeper into America’s debt culture instead. Predatory gambling has created a Lottery Class in America. While most of us save and invest money in retirement accounts and 529 college funds for our kids, government is turning hundreds of thousands of people who are small earners with the potential to be small savers into a new class of habitual bettors – the Lottery Class. They represent the 1 out of 5 Americans who, according to the Consumer Federation of America, think the best way to achieve long-term financial security is to play the lottery. (http://stoppredatorygambling.org/facts-research/failed-government-policy/#sthash.UHg50JLC.dpuf) And now you and your Task Force are planning to use the internet to pick the pockets of more residents and turn them into debtors, all for the “common good.” Where does it end?
You write that, ”We spend a lot of time and money working to support those who are afflicted with gambling addiction.” Well, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is responsible for a public policy that creates, enables, and promotes gambling addiction. The meager steps it takes to “support those who are afflicted with gambling addiction,” even while allowing more and more ways and opportunities to addict people, is little better than providing bandaids for the syphillis sores on men infected at Tuskegee, even as more and more were intentionally sickened by the State.
If the Commonwealth of Massachusetts can’t support itself without exploiting and harming the most vulnerable of its citizens, is it really a “commonwealth” at all?