With the public’s attention focused on a $1 billion Mega Millions jackpot last week, The Baltimore Sun elevated an old trope that has erroneously persisted for decades — that lotteries “victimize” poor people who are “duped” into playing (”The $1B question: Can Maryland run a lottery that doesn’t victimize people living in poverty?” July 27).
The Sun’s editorial depicted lotteries as villains and lottery players as “victims” who are incapable of making their own decisions. The misleading viewpoint was based on a series of articles substantially lacking in context reported by college students who established a premise and cherry-picked supporting data before contacting lotteries with transparently slanted questions — a violation of basic journalistic tenets.
Encouraging responsible play is a critical focus for Maryland Lottery and Gaming, which works with the Maryland Center of Excellence on Problem Gambling, the state’s primary source of assistance for problem gamblers. Maryland’s casinos annually contribute funds (more than $4.1 million last year) allowing the Center of Excellence to provide free counseling, available by calling 1-800-GAMBLER. The Maryland Lottery is also one of only 10 U.S. lotteries to achieve the highest level of responsible gambling certification by the World Lottery Association.
The Sun’s editorial references the concentration of lottery retailers in Baltimore City and claims a “troublingly high percentage of tickets are sold in low-income neighborhoods.” Lottery sales in Baltimore represented 13.4% of total sales last year — nearly 87% of sales happened elsewhere. Retail businesses sell products where people are and lotteries market to society as a whole just like any other business. Ultimately, each retail proprietor decides whether or not to become a lottery retailer.
The Sun also accuses lotteries of “transferring wealth” from poor to rich communities. Sales of Maryland Lottery tickets contributed $667.4 million to the state in the last fiscal year which The Sun claims was used for stadiums and reducing wealthy people’s taxes. In fact, $20 million in Maryland Lottery profit annually goes to Baltimore’s 21st Century Schools Fund. Additionally, the casinos contributed $531.4 million last year to the Education Trust Fund. The General Assembly determines how these funds are spent and The Sun can address budgeting disparities by asking lawmakers to answer for them.
The editorial closes by suggesting new investment to prevent problem gambling, but The Sun undercuts its own call to action with the observation that “even with reasonable protections, low-income players will continue to spend too much on lottery tickets anyway.” It is a contradictory argument that blames “victims.”
The idea that any entity should be expected to prevent problem gambling is a noble thought, but not realistic. For its part, the Maryland Lottery will always operate responsibly while also providing entertainment and generating much-needed revenue for the state’s good causes.
— John A. Martin, Baltimore
The writer is director of the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Agency.
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