Problems lurk behind Lotto fun'

By Ross Pringle

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AS ITS NAME suggests, Lotto really is a lottery, and the chances of winning big are slim at best.

But despite minuscule odds of a life-changing windfall, thousands line up week after week to chance their arm in the hope their numbers will come up.

Most would see Lotto as a simple, low-cost game of chance that poses relatively little risk of problem gambling, certainly in comparison to pokies.

Lotto is the family-friendly, smiling face of gambling. That view must now change with new data showing a surge in problems associated with Lotto. The lure of big jackpots is given as a reason for more problem gamblers citing Lotto as their major outlet - 12 per cent, up from 8.8 per cent three years ago.

Lotto has a long way to go before it matches pokies, but we should still be wary. Powerball and massive jackpots were introduced specifically to spur interest and raise ticket sales.

There are those who argue on the lottery's behalf, using the same arguments touted by the pokie outlets, that the money redistributed to sports and community groups is essential and could be lost if the rules are tightened.

More than $3 billion has been generated for communities and $4.5 billion won in the 25 years Lotto has been operating. Almost weekly there is a feel-good story about the latest winner. But for every mega-winner there doubtless hundreds of sorry ticket-holders who spent more than they could afford chasing the dream. Last year Wanganui's three luckiest outlets sold 75,000 winning tickets. How many losing tickets were sold, and what was the total value of sales as opposed to winnings?

With more problem gamblers citing Lotto as an issue, pressure is mounting on the Government to increase the problem gambling levy payable by the Lotteries Commission, the body that runs Lotto.

Ministers must resist any argument by the commission that it would reduce funds available through the Lottery Grants Board. They must offer extra assistance to programmes supporting the problem gamblers Lotto has created.

Feedback: editor@wanganuichronicle.co.nz

- WANGANUI CHRONICLE

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