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July 13, 2009

Shame on the Pats

by at 11:41 am.

Les Bernal, a passionate anti-casino activist, writes about the Patriots-lottery partnership in the Metrowest Daily News. The Patriots are putting their brand on the $20 lottery scratch ticket.

I’ve worked with Les before, and he’s a very serious fact-based guy. He puts a few of these statistics into his op ed, and they are scary:

A national commission report sponsored by Congress and the president showed that the top 5 percent of lottery users account for 54 percent of total sales and the top 20 percent provide 82 percent of total sales. That means the casual Lottery player, which makes up four out of every five players, is of little value to the Lottery’s revenue scheme.

Casinos are even more predatory - 90 percent of their gambling profits come from 10 percent of the people they target, making nine out of every ten casino visitors irrelevant to the casino business model.

The predatory gambling trade’s bread and butter are addicted or heavily-indebted citizens. They attempt to elude charges of exploitation by pleading it is a “voluntary” act, hiding under the cloak of “freedom.” But by definition, someone who is an addict or someone who is in deep financial debt is not free.

Two years ago I was on the fence about the Governor’s then-proposal for casinos in Massachusetts. That was when I got to work researching both sides’ arguments: the revenue and jobs promises from proponents, and the statistics that showcase the experiences in other states and the harm to society that has been experienced elsewhere. That was when I became adamantly against casinos in Massachusetts, or with having gambling expanded in any manner in our state. There are far more fair ways to raise revenues than to addict a portion of our population to gambling for profit. (Like, say, a progressive income tax.)

We have had a lottery here for quite some time, and though I would love to see it gone - the people who can least afford it are the ones who are sold on the promise of a chance to become rich, and therefore spend thousands a year they really don’t have on scratch tickets - chances are, our state is too addicted to the revenues it produces (originally intended for schools, now sent as general funds for local aid). You see, that’s problem number one: the state itself gets addicted, and therefore is subject to blackmail by the companies making the money on the gambling, and certainly, even if it’s discovered in a decade or so that casinos or other gambling venues are a bad investment by our state (costing more in mitigation than they provide in revenues, destroying too many families, etc) there’s no appetite for banning them once again, because the revenue loss would hit the state’s coffers and the costs of cleanup would still be there for some time.

But back to the New England Patriots, of which I am a huge fan (the only sport I’ll watch is football and the only games I’ll watch are Pats games!). Les is right. This partnership with the lottery dilutes their brand and makes me ashamed to call myself a fan. Putting the brand on something intended to addict a segment of the (mostly impoverished) population in order to fund services to that same vulnerable group is not how I want to picture the Pats, who have had some great influences both on and off the gridiron. I hope the Pats’ ownership rethinks this poor choice and backs out of this partnership. There are better ways to spread the Patriots great brand in New England and beyond.

MariW in comments to Les’ column (linked above) had this really great point:

There’s a reason the NFL doesn’t allow its members to gamble on games. None of the professional league sports allow that. It’s because the culture of gambling is corrupt and corrupting. Allowing the state lottery to use its logo, etc may not violate the letter of NFL regulations, but it sure violates the spirit. Shame on you, Patriots!

(HT: Ryan of Ryan’s Take via Facebook.)

20 Responses to “Shame on the Pats”

  1. ned Says:

    Casinos are a waste of everyone’s time.

    Green light a lottery sponsored sports book and I will be a happy man. I will no longer have to wire money back and forth to Barbados, and the billions of dollars that are changing hands illegally in this country will be accepted with a smile by the Nitten Patel’s of the world. (Nitty of course is my home boy down at Store 38).

    PS. Why is ok for the Sox to participate in the lottery and not the Pat’s?

  2. Lynne Says:

    Who said it was OK? Did I say this in my post?

    This article was about a new partnership with the Pats, and I am a huge fan of them, and so I was writing about my disappointment as well as using it as a teaching moment about the issue itself.

    However it goes without saying that it’s just as bad for the Sox to dilute their brand as well. I’m not a baseball fan so it doesn’t bother me on a personal level with regards to my own feelings, but just because the article and my post focused on the Pats, doesn’t mean I was being hypocritical or said it was just fine when it’s some other sports team.

    The fact that gambling is illegal means that yes, it goes underground and is not “taxable.” However, it also means it’s not so accessible, and a whole lot of people do NOT have easy access to it, and therefore there are far less addicts than when it is accessible. You create new addicts when you put that access into someone’s back yard, and the vast majority of those addicts are the ones who can least afford it.

  3. Tom Says:

    The MA state lottery has had Red Sox scratch tickets for some time now. In addition to cash prizes, these tickets also award tickets to Sox games as prizes. That it - that’s the only difference between a Red Sox scratch ticket and the other
    I’m no fan of casino gambling, and no fan of the lottery, especially scratch tickets, but I really fail to see any additional gambling harm in the Patriots advertising on a scratch ticket.
    There is no proven link between this form of advertising and the possible corruption of sports integrity.

  4. ned Says:

    “The fact that gambling is illegal means that yes, it goes underground and is not “taxable.” However, it also means it’s not so accessible, and a whole lot of people do NOT have easy access to it, and therefore there are far less addicts than when it is accessible. You create new addicts when you put that access into someone’s back yard, and the vast majority of those addicts are the ones who can least afford it.”

    Not so Accessible? Are you serious? It’s not 1975 anymore. You don’t have to seek out a guy named Fitzy in the back of a dimly lit bar to get a parlay on the Sunday game.

    And how many little kids know how to play Texas hold’em at an age when you didn’t quite understand the concept of go fish?

    Whether it’s gambling, drinking, or watching reality television on Bravo, you’re always going to have a percentage of addicts. It happens, and if their lack of self control fills a few pot holes on my street, than I welcome it.

    …and is it morally wrong for casino’s to target their most prolific demographic? I look at it as good business.

  5. Lynne Says:

    I’ll quote Les since he put it so succinctly and uses a quote from the lottery people to make his point:

    According to Lottery Director Mark Cavanagh, partnering with sports teams like the Patriots “brings in new players that don’t play.” The predatory gambling trade constantly needs new players because some will ultimately become extreme lottery users, losing thousands of dollars along the way and replacing other extreme lottery users who finally wiped out their funds.

    How is this not doing harm? A certain percentage of these “new players” will become addicted. That’s so not what I want my favorite team to do with their reputation and brand.

  6. ned Says:

    Ok, I do get your point, I guess.

    How do you feel about the rules regarding the NFL injury report?

    Does it bother you that the reason this program is in place is to provide Vegas handicappers the most accurate photograph of team strength?

  7. Lynne Says:

    You’ll have to ask Mr. Lynne, since I have no idea.

  8. Mr. Lynne Says:

    For competitive football reasons, and as a Pats fan, I long for the old Belichick injury reports like: “McGinist: Leg - Probable” and curse the day Tony Dungy made it onto the rules committee. ;) It does kinda suck though, when you’re Laurence Moroney unable to silence critics about your ‘lack of toughness’ when what you have is a broken shoulder.

    I hadn’t really delved too much into the gambling implications behind the rule. But given how much this information is held ‘close to the vest’, I’d think that anyone relying on the injury report as the difference between a winning and losing bet is taking quite a gamble indeed.

  9. Christopher Says:

    In my experience scratch tickets are harmless fun, though I doubt I’d ever pay more than $5 for one and even that’s quite a splurge for me. Nobody’s forced to play and on this one I’m happy to let the market determine it’s worth. The consolation is that lost money on my part helps our cities and towns and God knows they need it.

  10. Lynne Says:

    Christopher, you totally missed the point. It is NOT a choice for those people who have become addicted - and who are 95% part of the business model for casinos and scratch tickets, who are constantly trying to addict new people.

    You think it’s a choice because you don’t know anyone who does this habitually. What I say is that the state should not be in the business of promoting something that destroys people’s lives in such a significant way. Because then state - meaning us - has to clean up after them, in the cost of crime, courts, police, bankruptcy, etc.

  11. Christopher Says:

    Lynne, I’d be awfully careful about conflating casinos and scratch tickets. They are two very different forms of gambling. I’m finally starting to understand the mesmerizing qualities of slots (though I still don’t insist on a ban), but scratching just can’t be done that quickly. I hate to sound harsh, but you can avoid becoming addicted. I know I won’t for example, because I don’t play at all for several months at a time.

  12. anon Says:

    Lets take it another step further. Shouldn’t the entire game of football be banned because so many people gamble on the sport. And a lot of those people are addicted and have no choice but to gamble on the sport? Aren’t you helping exploit these addicts already by being fans of the sport whose popularity is in large part built upon….gambling!

  13. Lynne Says:

    anon: again you miss the point. Totally and absolutely. First, it’s illegal to bet on sports unless you live in a state that allows it. We don’t see sports gambling places on every corner like in Ireland. Second, again, this is about the state and what it promotes. Third, the NFL itself bans all betting on games for its employees. Think that’s because they hate making money?

    Christopher: the addicts can spend thousands a year or more on scratch tickets. It is not as physically addicting as slots, because slots use a specific set of technology to further addict people, but those who are specifically targeted are often thinking that the lottery is THE way to get ahead, because they have little understanding of the statistics of how likely that is. To someone who is poorly educated with little prospects, that dream of becoming a millionaire is very seductive. Too large a percentage of people think it’s THE way to build wealth, rather than hard work, education, and saving.

    Asked the most practical way to accumulate “several hundred thousand dollars,” 21 percent chose winning the lottery, compared to 55 percent who thought saving something each month for many years was best, according to a survey by the Consumer Federation of America and the Financial Planning Association.

    [snip]

    The poor were the most likely to say winning the lottery was the most practical way to gain wealth — with 38 percent of those earning less than $25,000 a year choosing that option compared to just 9 percent of those earning $75,000 or more.

  14. Christopher Says:

    Lynne, I’ve never been a big fan of tailoring policy to accomodate ignorance. I’m all for big signs at ticket vending machines describing exactly what the real odds are.

  15. Lynne Says:

    Then you have a direct conflict of interest, Christopher. The state runs the lottery, and wants to make as much money as possible. But the state is also the regulating body who would put such a rule about disclosure in place. Such signs would be designed to cut down on the number of habitual buyers who spend thousands who are the ones who get into trouble. But the whole business model of the lottery is to rely on those types for the vast majority of the funds. You see my point?

    The state should get out of gambling, or promoting gambling, period.

  16. anon Says:

    Obviously my post was somewhat tounge in cheek, but if you think the NFL really wants gambling to go away you are in a fantasy world. The NFL knows how important sports betting is to its popularity. The rules prohibiting betting by NFL employees are PR-driven, and in part to help promote gambling because obviously bettors want to think that the games themselves are on the up and up (think Pete Rose controversy).

    If we eliminated football, then nobody would bet on football! Isn’t that better than just driving the gambling online and underground?

    My point is gambling, like drinking, smoking, excercise, sex, everything can be done to an excess. I absolutely agree that attention should be given to gambling addiction. If it was feasibly possible to legislatively limit the amount someone could gamble so that they dont waste their entire life savings, I’d be all for it. Its a form of entertainment. People enjoy it. People should be allowed to enjoy it. Just because someone else can’t enjoy it responsibly doesn’t mean it should be banned altogether.

    Should the state focus so much on gambling to solve revenue problems? No, of course not. Would I support a progressive income tax in the place of expanded lottery, definitely. But the problem is that reliance on gambling, not the initial allowance of it at all.

    And Christopher, scratch tickets are much worse than casinos. Casinos are actually fun to go to and have as an experience. Anyone who’s ever gone to a Store 24 (now Tedeschi’s) and seen someone buy 20 scratch tickets, win a small amount and then use that money on more scracth tickets, knows these are the people that can’t afford to be to gambling. Scratch tickets are the worst for addicts.

  17. Christopher Says:

    RE: #15

    Point taken about conflict, but the state is ultimately accountable to the people via the legislature. It is well within the purview of the legislature to do the right thing and require Treasury to post these signs, even if it results in some revenue loss.

  18. ned Says:

    Here’s an even better on Lynny….

    http://www.usatoday.com/sports/2009-07-13-delaware-sports-betting_N.htm

    “Is this Heaven? No it’s Delaware.”

  19. Dan M Says:

    People with addictive personalities will always find something to be addicted to. PERIOD. Are you going to bring back prohibition because the fact that liquor stores make 90% of their money on the alcoholics? Don’t blame the Patriots, that’s ridiculous, and shows how most people done see what really happens in sports betting. Let me ask you this, what is the point of the injury list? What purpose does it serve football? It doesn’t. It allows betters to make a more educated bet.ie, Tom Brady is hurt, bet on the Dolphins. And it is SPORT mandated!!! Casino’s will bring revenue, jobs etc. That’s all I care about. If you wanna do crack, do crack. you want to gamble, gamble. Its not my business. Anyone who is against strip clubs, casinos, etc, should do something before they announce their opposition, come up with another way of bring the money and jobs to mass………………… cricket, cricket…….. that’s what I thought. Until I can go a few years without being overly taxed, I dont want to hear about poor defenseless gamblers. Let them gamble, the world needs ditch diggers too. And when you picket, or canvass for an anti casino state, take a minute to think.. which hurts people more, gambling or obesity? Why not ban junk food, makes much more sense, look at the billions spent on chronic diseases.

  20. Lynne Says:

    If you believe Big Casino’s numbers on jobs, revenue, and the like, you haven’t really looked at the numbers.

    Or at the experience of other states after a decade of casinos in their backyard.

    Cleaning up the mess from casinos is extremely expensive. Why should the state be in the business of getting more people addicted to something they then have to pay to fix in social costs? The only people who say there’s a rosy awesome scenario about revenues is the casino lobby. Sorry if I just don’t believe their projections.

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