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Gambling opponents see trouble with new Florida Lottery instant rewards game

Oct 11, 2010, 8:58 am

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Florida Lottery

A new Florida Lottery game offers payouts of up to $3 million and instant rewards — a combination that has gambling opponents worried.

Lucky Lines, which debuts Monday, lets players know right away if they're won big money. That's different from the Lottery's other computer-based games, such as Cash 3, Lotto and Powerball, and likey will appeal to compulsive gamblers, experts say.

"For somebody who is compulsive about gambling, they need instant results," said Pat Fowler, executive director of the Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling, based in Altamonte Springs.

Of the almost 5,000 people who asked the council for help last year, just 10 percent said Florida Lottery games were their main gambling problem. But 81 percent of those Lottery gamblers said their bane was scratch-off games that, like Lucky Lines, give instant results.

Joe S., a recovering gambler who answers the information line for Gamblers Anonymous in Central Florida, also sees the new game as trouble.

Lottery games — especially scratch-off tickets — come up "at just about every meeting," he said.

Joe S. said he expects compulsive gamblers who play scratch-off tickets to try Lucky Lines. But he also worries that people who dabble in the other games, such as Lotto and Powerball, without getting into trouble may try Lucky Lines and become hooked.

Many of those who win small amounts of money will put it right back into the game, he said.

Joe S. said the game probably would have lured him in if it came along before he stopped gambling in 1990.

"It's going to (cause problems)," said a volunteer with Gamblers Anonymous in Michigan, where Lucky Lines was introduced by the Michigan Lottery in April.

But unlike the Florida version of the game, which caps ticket prices at $5 with the top prize at $3 million, Michigan players can spend as much as $20 on a single ticket and win as much as $10 million instantly.

The volunteer, who did not give his name, said casinos are the No. 1 gambling problem in Michigan.

Lottery officials don't see Lucky Lines as any great departure from their familiar games.

"Consistent with the Florida Lottery's mission of generating as much money for education as possible, this new lottery game, like all lottery games, is designed to offer our customers a quality product for entertainment that is primarily purchased with discretionary dollars," said Lottery spokeswoman Connie Barnes.

"The instant-win component of this game is no different than our scratch-off games. Also, we already offer an instant-win computer-based game, EZmatch."

Players must purchase a Fantasy 5 ticket in order to play EZmatch, and the top prize is $500.

Lucky Lines is a cross between bingo and the casino game keno. Tickets sell for $1, $2, $3 or $5.

Players pick seven numbers between 1 and 49. They also can let Lottery computers pick some or all of the numbers.

The computer terminal then prints a game board displaying 49 numbers. If at least three of the numbers are connected in a line, vertically, horizontally or diagonally, the player wins. The player also wins if none of the numbers touches one another.

The prize for connecting three numbers ranges from $1 on a $1 play to $9 on a $5 play. Get all seven numbers in a row, and the prize ranges from $400,000 on a $1 play to $3 million on a $5 play.

Prizes less than under $600 can be collected at any Lottery retailer.

Lottery officials expect Lucky Lines to generate about $47 million in sales and raise about $15 million for the state's Educational Enhancement Trust Fund through next June 30, the end of the agency's fiscal year. June 30, 2011.

Thanks to rdgrnr for the tip.

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