The Washington State Problem Gambling Web site, www.notagame.org, highlights the seriousness of youth gambling.
On the average, it says problem gamblers began gambling at about 10 years of age. It also notes that kids who gamble are twice as likely to use illegal drugs, three times more likely to drink alcohol and to be in a gang fight, and four times more likely to smoke cigarettes and to get in trouble with police.
A local newspaper report last year says “as many as 44,000 of the state’s teenagers either have a gambling problem or are at risk.” And although it’s illegal for stores to sell lottery tickets to those under the age of 18, it’s also well known that youth gambling problems frequently begin with kids buying scratch lottery tickets from vending machines.
With these statistics in mind, you would think the Washington Lottery Commission would do all that it could to prevent children from purchasing lottery tickets. Instead, it is doing the unthinkable – marketing the types of scratch tickets that could entice children into gambling.
The Lottery Commission’s $2 scratch tickets show the label packaging of familiar candies: Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Milk Duds, Twizzlers, and Jolly Rancher. Emblazoned at the top of each ticket are the words, “Over $2.5 million in cash prizes!” And on the bottom, “Win up to $20,000!” To find the winning numbers, you simply scratch the covering off the printed candies.
Within hours after I had notified the local news media about these scratch tickets, the Lottery Commission pulled the game.
Nevertheless, it still calls into question why lottery officials even offered these tickets in the first place.
On its Web site, www.walottery.com, the Lottery Commission has a link called “Responsibility.” On this page, it says, “Not 18? Not a chance. Responsibility: It’s everyone’s business.”
Apparently, it’s everyone’s business EXCEPT for the Lottery Commission. It is irresponsible to use candy labels for the promotion of scratch tickets that are cheap, visible, easy for children to obtain from vending machines, and offer the kind of instant gratification that can lead to compulsive gambling.
Frankly, as a state representative and the father of three children, I’m very surprised at this marketing technique that flies in the face of a letter Gov. Christine Gregoire wrote to Lottery Director Christopher Liu on Feb. 10, 2006:
“As you develop the new (business and marketing) plan, we need to be very clear that we will not engage in any marketing strategies directed toward youth. Because there may be little to no difference between marketing and advertising strategies directed at teenagers under 18, and those 18 and 19 years old, I ask that you refrain from using tools that entice those young adults to play,” she wrote.
It seems hypocritical that as the state is cracking down against tobacco and alcohol sales to minors, the Lottery Commission seems to be heading in the opposite direction.
Any imagery or theme that has even a small chance of appealing to kids is inappropriate. That includes the use of candy wrappers. The state of Washington should not be grooming our youth to become habitual gamblers, and the Lottery Commission is wrong to entice children in this manner.
Although Lottery Commission officials now admit it was “a mistake,” I wonder how many young people this marketing program attracted before the games were pulled? How many more times will Lottery officials gamble with our children’s future, especially if they have previously ignored the governor’s directive?
If we want to protect children who do not fully understand the risks of gambling, we need to make sure the Lottery Commission is held responsible. It’s time to send a strong message, “Marketing to those not 18? Not a chance!” And if it continues, I will seek legislation to hold this agency accountable for its contribution to the addiction of youth gambling in Washington.
Rep. Dan Roach, R-Bonney Lake, serves the 31st Legislative District and is the father of three children. For more information or to contact Rep. Roach, go to www.houserepublicans.wa.gov/Roach.