BETTING ON the lottery is a loser. Not just for those who pay their money and take their chances, but for taxpayers. Lottery revenue is not a stable source on which to build a state budget.
Yet state leaders persist in relying on lottery funds for their ambitious new programs. Once again, they have been jilted. Lottery sales from July 1 to Dec. 1 declined 10 percent. The state's Board of Revenue Estimates now expects lottery receipts to be a whopping $49 million below budget projections. That leaves a considerable fiscal hole to be filled.
Part of the problem revolves around a leadership void at the agency. The last lottery director, Lloyd Jones, battled cancer for months before taking a leave, and ultimately resigning. In the meantime, the Glendening administration cut back sharply on advertising to save money. Without money to promote the lottery games and without Mr. Jones' firm hand, lottery revenues began to fall off.
The agency also was hurt by unrealistic optimism about a new multi-state lotto game in Maryland. It has been a vast disappointment. On top of that, the agency tried to cut its losses by dropping its toll-free information telephone line for those seeking past winning numbers. It was replaced with a 45-cents-a-minute 900 line. That alienated players and turned out to be less of a money-maker than expected.
A new lottery director, Buddy W. Roogow, has plans to rejuvenate the agency. He is faced with maturing number games that no longer excite people. He wants to restore the toll-free information line, boost advertising expenditures considerably and come up with some different games to draw in more players.
Mr. Roogow is an accomplished bureaucrat who knows his way around government. But he may be facing an inevitable decline in lottery popularity. The advent of slot-machine gambling in Delaware and West Virginia draws potential gamblers away. And many people are beginning to realize that the odds are stacked against them in any game of chance.
The weak lottery performance hurts Gov. Parris N. Glendening's efforts to balance the state budget and implement a costly income-tax cut over the next three years. Let's face it: This is not a growth industry any longer. It would be prudent for the governor to lower his expectations for the lottery when he sits down to draw up his budget for those years.
Pub Date: 12/28/96