With the popularity of traditional lotteries waning across America, many states are turning to higher-priced instant games to lure new players and raise revenue. Scratch-off tickets, for example, now account for more than 75 percent of lottery sales in Texas, which became the first state to introduce a $50 scratch-off game earlier this year.
But critics in Texas and elsewhere say that games promising this kind of instant gratification are more likely to contribute to the kind of problem-gambling usually associated with fast-paced casino betting, and they are trying to limit them. They say the games take particular advantage of the most vulnerable members of society, including the poor and members of minority groups.
"Scratch-off tickets are to the lottery what crack is to cocaine," said Texas state Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso.
In Massachusetts, a third of the calls to the state's 24-hour gambling-addiction hot line come from lottery players, the majority of whom play instant games, according to Margot Cahoon of the state's Council on Compulsive Gambling.
Industry leaders agree that the future of the lottery business depends on instant games with bigger prizes. The $50 Texas game, for example, offers thousands of instant prizes ranging from $50 to $50,000, with a few exceptional prizes as high as $5 million. But they say the games are not aimed at compulsive gamblers and are not intended to be addictive.
States are considering even more potentially addictive offerings. A Florida government report earlier this year on how to enhance lottery revenue suggested that the introduction of video lottery terminals there could raise more than $1 billion a year. But the report acknowledged these games "are considered to be more addictive than traditional lottery games and could contribute to a problem of pathological gambling."
Just who plays the lottery - and how much - has been a contentious issue. As lotteries have expanded their offerings, most states have emphasized statistics showing overall participation in any type of game, which typically matches the demographics of the population.
Academic experts on the lottery, however, say this kind of analysis is misleading because it does not make a distinction between once- or twice-a-year players and daily or weekly bettors.