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October 25, 2006 | South Carolina Headlines


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Who Gets Hurt By Powerball?
Jimmy Moore
October 8, 2002

After months of challenges and debate, the Powerball lottery game has come to South Carolina in the next phase of games presented by the state of South Carolina to supposedly bring in revenue for education. Lottery proponents are already heralding the instant success this new game has had in its first few days of operation.

Of course, Democrat Gov. Jim Hodges and his campaign team will be quick to transform this new lottery game into political capital for his re-election bid. He will attempt to do this by touting how this new lottery game will raise much needed revenue for education in South Carolina.

However, what this lame duck governor will not tell anyone about is a growing group of people who are getting hurt by Powerball and other forms of legalized gambling. And it is not who you would expect!

A leading expert on problem gambling predicted five years ago that he would be “shocked” if the proportion of older adults calling gambling hotlines EVER exceeded 10 percent of the total calls.

In 2001, however, the number of senior citizens who called a gambling hotline reached a staggering 15 percent! Even worse, the trend has been for that percentage to continue to rise rapidly in the coming years based on a variety of factors.

First, senior citizens tend to have more disposable income than any other group. Because of this, many older adults are apt to participate in lottery games. With people living longer these days, the number of senior citizens playing games like Powerball is increasing.

Second, senior citizens have more free time on their hands. This translates into an increase in boredom, loneliness and feelings of isolation. In fact, many senior citizens suffer from anxiety or depression. A lot of older adults turn to playing the lottery as an outlet.

When you have nothing to do, then you will literally do anything just to keep yourself occupied. How convenient is it to go down to the store and pick a bunch of numbers for a chance to win millions of dollars? To make matters worse, if a senior citizen matches even 2 or 3 numbers (which is worthless or nominal at best), then they will call all their friends and talk about it. This will encourage even more senior citizens to play Powerball.

Third, with the addition of Powerball to the existing lottery games in South Carolina, the temptation for seniors is to play them all. After all, somebody has to win all that money, right? With so many options and with “everyone” playing, why not get in on the action? A fool and his money...well, you know.

Finally, many senior citizens rationalize that the money they spend on lottery tickets is going to a good cause: the education of their grandchildren. Unfortunately, these well-meaning citizens do not realize that only a very small percentage of the state education budget is comprised of money raised from lottery proceeds. Senior adults would do more to help their grandkids if they would invest the money they want to spend on lottery games into saving bonds. This takes the gamble out of the investment.

Of course, the stereotype in our society is that gambling is a problem that is prevalent among men. But, studies have shown that older women are especially susceptible to having gambling problems from playing lottery games like Powerball. And since the life-expectancy of women is longer than men, this presents a long-term problem.

Because most senior citizens are beyond the age where they can return to work to feed their need to purchase lottery tickets, many of them will literally gamble their food and housing money so they can play these games. Conventional thinking would lead you to believe that cannot happen, but sadly it is.

The lottery was approved by voters in the 2000 referendum. It was the decision of every person who cast a “yes” vote to bring legalized gambling to South Carolina. The consequences of this will be on the shoulders of every single voter who supported this, including the lottery’s primary supporter - outgoing Gov. Jim Hodges.

In a few years, the statistics will be released regarding the effects the lottery has had on our state since its inception. Who is going to stand up and take responsibility for the emotional and financial ramifications that Powerball and the lottery has had on the citizens of South Carolina then?

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