Surveying the Damage Caused by Gambling Dependence

December 4, 2005

Andrea Neal column for release Nov. 17 and thereafter.

INDIANAPOLIS – The arrest of a former security officer for conspiring to rig a scratch-off game may sound like small potatoes in the $664 million business that is the Hoosier Lottery.

But with the legislature poised to consider even more gambling expansion in the 2005 session, Hoosiers would be wise to ask hard questions about our fourth largest revenue source: Has the proliferation of gambling contributed to moral decline among our citizens? Is this an industry on which Indiana wants to build its budgets? Has Indiana done enough to avert the corruption that historically accompanies gambling enterprises?

In the biggest scandal to hit the lottery since the 1989 resignation of lotto chief Jack Crawford over sexual harassment charges, Marion County prosecutors have charged William C. Foreman and two other men with a million-dollar scratch-off scam.

Court documents say Foreman, a security officer for the lottery, tipped off friends that a winning ticket in the "$2,000,000 Bonus Spectacular" game had been sent to a store in Cross Plains. One of the men went to the store and bought all of its $20 tickets — about $700 worth — including one that qualified for a $1 million payoff.

Foreman was arrested Nov. 8 and charged with disclosing confidential lottery information, a Class A felony carrying a prison term of up to 50 years. Though maintaining his innocence, he resigned from his lottery post in September after superiors became suspicious about his activities.

Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi, whose office learned of the alleged scam from an informant, has expressed concerns that the lottery did not respond appropriately when evidence of a crime surfaced. Lottery Director John M. Ross has defended his department’s internal probe. He says he feels "awful" about what happened and committed to restoring the lottery’s reputation for integrity and ethics.

That will not be an easy task.

When a state builds a whole industry around a something-for-nothing mentality, it doesn’t take long for otherwise good people to start to expect something for nothing. Integrity goes out the window. It’s easy to see how someone who works in a gaming environment could lose sight of such principles as hard work, honest effort and fair play.

Whether he’s found innocent or guilty, Foreman’s reputation is ruined. This is a man Ross considered a "trusted security officer." A former Indianapolis policeman, Foreman was just months away from his planned retirement date and the pension benefits that come with it. The Indiana State Fraternal Order of Police lists him on its board of directors as secretary.

But the more extensive human damage occurs day after day, at hundreds of retail outlets across the state, where Hoosiers literally throw away their hard-earned dollars. The statistic that too few lottery players understand is this one: The more you play, the more you lose.

Richard C. Leone, commissioner of the National Gambling Impact Study Commission, has a negative view of state lotteries, which he says "have propagated the myth that gambling is good for society in general and the government in particular."

In fact, "lotteries are perhaps the hardest form of gambling to justify in terms of their costs and benefits. The best studies all point in the same direction: Lotteries prey on the poor and the undereducated."

It’s been 15 years since the Hoosier Lottery was launched amidst great hoopla, but few could have foreseen the speed with which Indiana would become a gambling haven. We’ve now got casinos, horse tracks, betting parlors and convenience store pull-tab games.

Gambling revenue is growing faster than any other source of state funds, providing 6 percent of the general fund. Incoming House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, says he knows some lawmakers will be pushing this session for land-based casinos and pull-tabs at horse track and OTB facilities, both of which would generate additional income for a state facing nearly a billion-dollar deficit.

"We have become extremely dependent on the gaming industry for state income," Bosma says. "I don’t think there’s any real opportunity at the present time to become less dependent."

That’s a shame. As the arrest of William Foreman reminds us, gambling is not a normal business, even the law-abiding can succumb to temptation and a state that encourages a something-for-nothing mentality should bear some responsibility for the individual and collective tragedies that result.

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