Winners and Losers-2

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A call to action

As made clear in my previous post, I have always been opposed to publicly-sanctioned gambling, and skeptical about how it is defended by governments and the lottery corporations.

Yes, the Atlantic Lottery Corporation (ALC) has given much back to the community. But it has sucked out even more and at what cost?

I submit that the cost is too high. Do you agree with me? If so, I think it is time to stand up and be counted. It is time to demand a ban on the more pernicious types of gambling such as video lottery terminals (VLTs) and sharply restrict the advertising used to promote all kinds of gambling, including lotteries.

About 10 years ago, the boutique agency I co-owned learned about an opportunity with ALC. They wanted public relations assistance on the ground, in this province. And we were a perfect fit for them.

But it made me uneasy. This was, after all, a public relations contract. Among other things, it meant managing difficult issues related to gambling addiction, including people going bankrupt, embezzling money, even killing themselves. Difficult stuff. I sat down with my partners and discussed these issues. If we took on this work, wed be engaging these matters head on. We would be defending the indefensible.

So we agreed not to bid.

I was very proud of my partners on that day.

Later, our company merged with a large Halifax agency that did do some lottery work. This made me uneasy, but I managed to steer clear of the file completely, with one exception: a speech I wrote for a senior ALC executive about life as a working mother. I did not have to defend lotteries or gambling and, if asked to do so, would have declined on a matter of principle. But, yes, it was a compromise.

If the ALC were to call tomorrow and offer me a plummy communications contract, I would say no, without hesitation. I dont want their money. Sometimes, you just have to say no.

It would be nice if others took a stand as well, by saying no to ALC, wherever they can make a difference.

For example, wouldnt it be great if people just stopped playing VLTs, and buying break-open tickets? I could certainly get behind that though I know its not going to happen, just as the populace will not abandon alcohol and tobacco overnight.

And, no, I am not asking the masses to stop buying their precious lottery tickets. People take these very seriously. Their weekly lottery purchase represents one slim chance at a better life.

However, we do need to rethink and slap some rigid controls on how lotteries are advertised. Ban the creepy and pernicious lure advertising. No more emotional movies that put people right there, in that euphoric winners bubble, for even a few seconds. These ads create hope even an expectation, for some of winning the big prize, with no mention that odds of doing so are one in 14 million. Limit all ads to basic information, such as: This weeks prize: $4.5 million and ALWAYS state the odds of winning in the ad, even on TV. I realize that ALC would oppose that, but to them I say: too bad.

While on the topic of advertising, lets shine a light on the agencies who make the big bucks by producing those slick ads. Its easy money. Their creative challenge is to develop new ways of baiting you with the possibility of becoming a millionaire. Im sorry, but thats not a challenge at all. Its like shooting fish in a barrel.

The creative people who produce these ads are also artists; they are gifted, insightful and sensitive individuals. Im willing to bet that many have wondered, at least internally, about the rightness of what they do. And that, occasionally, they ask it aloud, of each other: Hey Jim. Do you ever think about the poor wretches who fall for this stuff? Do you ever feel guilty about that?

So I toss out this challenge to agencies: why not implement a corporate social responsibility policy that precludes you from promoting activities that have a high social cost such as gambling? Yes, ALC is a plum account and another agency will jump in to do the work. But you will sleep better at night for it.

Then theres the media who run advertisements for the ALC. They, too, could refuse to accept advertising for something that has been shown in their own newscasts and pages to be the source of major societal ills. Its not likely to happen, I know, but I put it out there anyway. After all, its hard for media to take the moral high ground in editorials and news coverage, while accepting the ALCs filthy lucre through advertising.

In the comments section to Part 1 of this post, Pam Ghent spoke, as a former shopowner, about the small net profit from ticket sales. Storeowners might consider getting rid of the lottery thing altogether. Yes, it would be a costly decision, as tickets draw customers into the store, where they inevitably buy other things. It would not be a wise business move but it would be the right thing to do.

Bar owners could consider removing VLTs from their establishments, though I know this would be suicide for many. I once had lunch with a small group of clubowners, during which I learned a great deal about their issues. I know that the province treats bar owners without consultation or consideration, in the way they develop and implement policy. More to the point, I know that, for many, losing VLTs would mean closing the business. The harsh reality is that the bar industry has become overly dependent on these machines, the situation being symbolic of how our society governments, service providers, community organizations, and the public have become addicted to gambling.

Finally, I would like to see some leadership from our provincial government. We seemed to flirt with being a have province earlier this year, though that was apparently short-lived. Either way, it is time for the province to look hard at reducing its dependence on lottery revenues, beginning with tighter controls on advertising and ending with a ban on certain kinds of gambling.

I know I am tilting at windmills. The ideas expressed here are quixotic and probably futile. But I think it is time that we, as a society, took this bull by the horns. It starts with some difficult choices, for individuals, businesses, and governments.

But we need to start somewhere. It is time for action.

POSTSCRIPT:

Youve heard about Lotto Max, the new national lottery. Here is a blurb from the ALC web site, promoting Lotto Max:

Brace yourself for some of the most ginormous jackpots Canada has ever seen and more chances to become a millionaire with LOTTO MAX.

Forget what you thought you knew about lottery draws. This game breaks all the rules! No single digit jackpots here. How does $10 million sound. just to start! If its not won, the LOTTO MAX grows. Bigger is better for everybody!

Once the jackpot reaches $50 million yes I meant $50 million the jackpot goes into MAXMILLIONS mode. With MAXMILLIONS, there are additional draws for $1 million prizes. LOTTO MAX Jackpot or MAXMILLIONS either way if your numbers come up, you better have your wish list ready!

Wow! Sounds even better than Lotto 6/49! Nowhere in this blurb does it say, however, that the odds of winning the Lotto Max top prize are one in 28,633,528 versus one in 13,983,816 for Lotto 6/49. This kind of promotional crap is over the top and the exhortation to have your wish list ready is deceitful. It is time to abolish it.

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  • Patton
    July 27, 2010 - 14:54

    I agree we need to put some restraint on this runaway loto fever. One start might be to require a publishing of the odds of winning, bold and large print, with each new loto offer. After all, we require that of tobacco products.
    It should be acknowledged that the lotteries are well supported by John and Joanie Q. Public. They are able to pay what they think they can afford, buying an opportunity to dream of what might be possible.
    I think you are on the right track and a solution featuring more rational and less greedy motives might become possible.