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Some see playing the lottery as gambling that could fuel addiction

Program director of Wells House Inc. in Hagerstown says it could be problem for those with impulse control disorders

November 29, 2012|By CALEB CALHOUN | caleb.calhoun@herald-mail.com

For many people who bought Powerball tickets before Wednesday night’s $587.5 million drawing, two bucks might seem like a small investment.

For some, that’s what it is, but others see playing the lottery as gambling that, in some cases, could fuel an addiction.

“I buy a ticket once a week, but I know how to handle it,” said Serita Cooper of Hagerstown. “I’m not addicted to it. I don’t have to have it every day.”

For others, the urge to buy lottery tickets could be an addiction, just as playing table games or slots can be, said Richard Benchoff, program director of Wells House Inc. in Hagerstown, which provides treatment to men with addictions.

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“They’re impulse control disorders, and some of the same neural pathways in the brain are involved in any addictions,” Benchoff said. “But the machines would offer an extra stimulus because things such as bells and lights would attract somebody, and the casinos have that down to a science.”

Benchoff said he is not opposed to gambling, even if it can become a problem for people.

“Gambling is ubiquitous in our society whether it’s legal or not, and for a person who has a problem, it already exists,” he said. “How many football pools do you see on Super Bowl Sunday? At least there’s some oversight if its legal.”

The estimated Powerball jackpot rose to $587.5 million by the time of Wednesday night's drawing, the largest ever, according to lottery officials.

Area residents were going into gas stations and convenience stores buying tickets throughout the day, including people who would generally never buy tickets.

Della Thompson, 72, of Boonsboro, bought a Powerball ticket but said she thinks buying lottery tickets is a form of gambling and can be a problem for people.

“Some people will buy tickets every day or every week and they don’t realize at the end of the year how much they put out,” she said. “I play it when it’s high. It’s gambling and I don’t really believe in gambling, but when it’s this high, I guess God will forgive me.”

For some people, religion could be a reason not to purchase a ticket regardless of how high the payout.

Christ’s Reformed Church United Church of Christ Senior Pastor Gregg Meserole said he has never bought a ticket.

“It’s not something where I condemn those who do, but it’s something that I personally said is not a good way to spend my money,” he said. “I understand it, but I wonder if we are playing to the illnesses in our society and taking advantage of some of the addictions in our society. I’m not sure the cost is worth the benefit.”

Meserole said he would face an “ethical dilemma” if somebody put a winning Powerball ticket in the church’s offering plate.

“Would I turn that down? One would have to say probably not,” he said. “If the question of whether or not it’s right or wrong in the beginning is already decided, and you already have the winnings in hand, it’s very important what you do with that. I would hope to be as generous as possible in a way that honors and builds and nurtures as many people as possible.”

On its website, the Maryland Lottery has a number that people with gambling problems can call if they need confidential help and information, along with a link to the Maryland Alliance for Responsible Gambling’s website at http://mdgamblinghelp.org.

Carole Everett, director of Communications for the Maryland Lottery, said that she does not think buying lottery tickets is the same as gambling at casinos because of the “instant gratification” of slots and table games. She stressed that the lottery promotes “responsible play” and that a high payout like Wednesday does not make things worse for people who are addicted but instead draws in more people who might not usually buy tickets.

“People who never play will throw in a couple bucks because it’s so much fun to think about what you would do if you won,” she said. “In any form of entertainment there’s always going to be a small portion of people who do it more than they should, but our job is to raise revenue for the State of Maryland and we do it in a responsible fashion.”

Benchoff agreed that the high payout will not make things worse for people who might have an addiction problem.

“I highly doubt that somebody will become a pathological gambler after they bought a ticket because of the high Powerball numbers,” he said.

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