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Are Floridians addicted to the lottery? Bill would disclose the risks

Lottery tickets and advertisements would say that playing “may lead to addiction and/or compulsive behavior.”
A customer, who did not want to be identified, displays the $200.00 worth of Mega Millions tickets he bought at Downtown Plaza convenience store in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018. [Associated Press]
A customer, who did not want to be identified, displays the $200.00 worth of Mega Millions tickets he bought at Downtown Plaza convenience store in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018. [Associated Press]
Published Feb. 21, 2019

Debate about a bill that would require warnings on lottery tickets quickly turned into a debate on Wednesday about whether anyone in Florida is actually addicted to lottery games, with one lawmaker blasting it as “deceptive.”

The bill (HB 629) by state Rep. Will Robinson, Jr., R-Bradenton, would add two warnings to the front of every lottery ticket:

“WARNING: PLAYING A LOTTERY GAME CONSTITUTES GAMBLING AND MAY LEAD TO ADDICTION AND/OR COMPULSIVE BEHAVIOR.”

And, “THE CHANCES OF WINNING A BIG PRIZE ARE VERY LOW.”

Under the bill, those two warnings would take up 10 percent of the face of every lottery card, and they would be required in every Florida Lottery advertisement, including those on television.

But state Rep. Emily Slosberg, D-Boca Raton, grilled Robinson during a House Gaming Control Subcommittee meeting about whether he knows of anyone addicted to lottery games.

Robinson he didn’t know of any personal examples, but he pointed to news articles out of state. That led Slosberg to come out strongly against the bill.

“To add a warning that says playing the lottery game constitutes gambling and may lead to addiction is misleading, is deceptive disclosure to the people of Florida,” Slosberg said. “There’s not one supported case of a person that wakes up every morning that goes to the gas station to buy Florida Lottery tickets and sits there all day addicted to the Florida Lottery. This disclosure that we add is unnecessary, and I can’t support the bill.”

How many people might be addicted to the games is unclear. But the numbers show that some Floridians spend a staggering amount each year on lottery tickets.

Last year, the Florida Lottery sold $6.7 billion in tickets — nearly $400 in tickets for every adult in the state. (The figure doesn’t include tourists, some of whom also play.)

And while the Florida Lottery does post the number to a gambling addiction hotline on its website, it doesn’t say anything on its tickets.

State Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, who used to run a casino consulting company in Las Vegas, disagreed with Slosberg.

“The research proves that there are people that become addicted to gambling, and whether it’s 1 percent or 5 percent, people do at times become susceptible to this,” he said. “I know this from my prior life.”

He said that if Slosberg is right, the disclosure will only help people.

“If it doesn’t matter, if nobody actually has issues, there will be no fiscal impact, because nobody would buy any fewer lottery tickets,” he said. “And if there is an issue, this might dissuade one or two, or one percent, of the world from falling susceptible to this.”

He added, “I don’t think we do any damage either to the lottery or to the lives of people simply by letting them know that there could be an issue with this."

The Florida Lottery secretary did not speak about the bill or give an opinion on it. If fewer people spent money on the games, it could potentially affect the amount of money that goes to Bright Futures scholarships.

The bill passed the House Gaming Control Subcommittee with only Slosberg voting against it.

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