Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Next they'll be using computers!

I'm not a huge fan of slippery slope arguments.  For one thing they are too easy.  Nearly every decision of any consequence carries with it the potential for infinite unintended (or intended) consequences, and some sub-set of those is always a parade of horribles.

So I read this afternoon's dispatch from the State House News - "Lottery Poised to Allow Debit Card Purchases in 2012" - and I consciously sprinkle a few grains of salt over my gut reaction.

The way of the future
Which is: this is just the first of what is likely to be a series of reactions, large and small, to the decision to bring casino gambling to Massachusetts.

Oh there is no reason in the world why lottery tickets - legal for purchase and sale in Massachusetts - should not be available to consumers on precisely the same terms as any other legal product.  No reason, in other words, why ticket vendors should not be allowed to accept payment via debit card, or credit card, or check, or whatever (though drawing the line at EBT cards seems a reasonable policy decision).

So it isn't the merits of the decision I'm reacting to.  It's more the context.  We're barely a month into our new casino era and already the stewards of the lottery - heretofore the Commonwealth's gambling monopolist - are reacting.  The move will increase ticket sales by some marginal amount; not nearly enough to cover the impact that casinos will have on the lottery's bottom line, once a couple of them are up and running.  So then the Lottery Commission will do something else - broaden their advertising, maybe.  Or issue more vendor licenses.  And so on.

Meanwhile, once casino revenue projections have been definitively revealed as the pure fantasy that they've always been Massachusetts will follow the path trod by a bunch of casino states that preceded us.  We'll loosen restrictions, increase bet limits, reduce budgets for addiction treatment, etc., desperately trying to wring a few more dollars out of a stubbornly finite pool of gamblers.

Call it a slippery slope, call it a race to the bottom.  Whatever.  We have started down the path, and it leads nowhere good.

A bit of gallows humor in today's announcement (from the SHNS):
Lottery officials said 33 of 42 state lotteries around the country already permit debit card purchases.

"It's the way of the future," said Lottery executive director Paul Sternburg said during the meeting.
Debit cards are "the way of the future?"  Sure - maybe in the first term of the Reagan Administration.  But I suppose that should provide some small bit of comfort.  With this degree of tech lag we won't see the lottery on smart phones until somewhere around 2040.

1 comment:

  1. Best part of SHN piece: "Other Lottery officials noted that retailers might need to be educated about the shift in policy to avoid making banned Lottery sales to customers on public assistance and using electronic benefit transfer cards."

    I would love to be there when these 'other Lottery officials' inform the borderline-insane dude who sells lottery tix at my neighborhood gas station of their 'shift in policy.'

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