It’s time for Nevada to have a lottery

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Editor’s note: The following is the opinion of Gaming Today managing editor and general manager Howard Barish.

I won’t speak for everyone, but I can only assume that in these strange days most of us are experiencing a human emotion that doesn’t occur too often during our “normal” routine.

I’m speaking of personal reflection. It certainly feels like there’s plenty of time in the day, and night, to ponder our existence.

For me, the primary thoughts are on stuff like family, work, well-being and the community at large. Then the not-so-critical elements come to mind. Not being able to dine in a restaurant, no access to a gym, having basically no sports to watch or even drop into a tavern or local casino to take a swing at video poker has frankly cramped my style. And I assume many of you as well.

One sure thing, Las Vegas will recover

Let’s discuss the last item in that list. Other than e-sports or soccer in Belarus, there is nothing to wager on in Nevada. Maybe that’s a good thing for the time being. But let’s not fool ourselves as to what will occur when gaming re-opens. That’s why I can’t understand how in 2020 Nevada does not offer the lottery?

I know this may not sit well with legacy casino operators, but I think there’s a clear distinction between going to a casino or tavern for entertainment and buying a few tickets just so one can have that dream. I, for one, would still bet sports, horses, and video poker plus buy a few tickets when the pools go over $200 million. But especially in these peculiar times, I should be able to fill my tank with gas and walk inside the convenience store to buy a few tickets.

Currently, I have two choices: Schlep over to Primm in order to buy tickets, or text my buddy Lee in Scottsdale and ask him to purchase a few, which immediately gives me a 50/50 partner.

There are 45 states that offer the lottery and it looks as though Alabama will pass legislation this year. And the last time I checked, there are commercial casinos in at least 40 of those states. Thus the competition argument doesn’t fly as they coexist.

That leaves Alaska, Hawaii, Nevada and Utah as the states which do not participate. It’s said that Alaska and Hawaii don’t offer the lottery as they have no neighboring state competition. And Utah is just, well, Utah. Heck, folks can even buy tickets in Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands.

What’s wonderful about lottery revenue is that most states earmark a portion of the funds for education. This may be the understatement of the year. Nevada could use a lot of money for education.

No one could have forecasted this devastating pandemic. But what if the Nevada Department of Education had a war chest of money and could have been better prepared to serve its students during this major interruption?

I have two teenagers that basically have no structured learning program at all. There’s scattered tutoring online, but no classes. This is not the case when I speak with friends in other states. Their kids have access to either online or telephone classes. Texas, for example, sends 27.1 percent of the lottery revenues to its Foundation School Fund.

My question is: Why oppose another potential revenue source? Now, more than ever, we need all the funding that we can get. And let’s not pretend we don’t see the news reports of long, snaked lines at the Primm Lotto Store or the establishments in White Hills, AZ. Those are all southern Nevada residents.

Stories also come from the northern borders of Nevada. For heaven’s sake, keep the money in this state! Think about the possibility of lottery machines in the gift shops of the busiest Strip properties.

I bought tickets at Foxwoods a few years ago and just recently noticed machines at casinos in Pittsburgh. Not to mention that retailers get rewarded handsomely for selling winning tickets. Those always make for feel-good stories.

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There are those who oppose the lottery claiming that it has a damaging effect on members in society whom are downtrodden. That can’t be said of just gambling alone. I agree that the lottery can be perceived as selling an impossible dream. But we see winners all the time taking pictures with that big check.

And sometimes it is people we know. My neighbor’s daughter won a million dollars in the Kentucky lottery. She had five numbers in the Mega Millions game but didn’t have the “mega” ball for the $90 million. It was still quite a haul.

Perhaps Nevada could follow North Dakota’s model and only offer the multi-state games such as Powerball. This way there wouldn’t be scratch-offs or instant games which could attract those who couldn’t afford to play every day.

It’s time Nevada. I realize that the state constitution would have to be amended and that it may take several years to pass, but so what? We’ll be living here for quite some time. Let’s think about the big picture.

Speaking of reflection, let’s try this one on for size. I arrived in Las Vegas in 1992. If I were to float the idea of professional sports teams in Las Vegas during those first 15 years, I’d be shunned for the notion of taking people away from the tables and machines. Funny, isn’t it, how people can come around?

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