This 1983 photo of an off-track betting site was taken on 116th Street between Lexington and Third Avenues North Side of Street in New York City. (Wikimedia Commons)

I’ve been hearing a lot about Mike Dunleavy’s idea to bring gambling into the state. I listen to both sides of the argument. In one case it’s a revenue-builder and in another it’ll be the downfall of our society due to people going broke. I worked in the gambling industry in New York for years and let me tell you one thing. It’s not just a winner, it’s a very big winner and not only for the state but for the establishments that sell the tickets.

When I grew up in New York everybody played the lottery. When I turned 18 I took a job at Off Track Betting Corp., a private entity, which carried live horse racing from all around the country. The corporation took a 7 percent cut off whatever the track prices paid. That paid for employees, equipment, and gave the company a healthy profit.

It was a convenience fee paid by most gamblers, since the Off Track Betting Parlors were strategically placed near local bars. People would run across the street, make their bets, and then dodge getting hit by cars so they could watch the race on TV while sipping their beer.

We even sold daily numbers via the New York State Lottery, which was run under the division of taxation and finance. They put machines in every parlor and you could play a pick three or pick four number. Each bin had balls labeled 0 to 9 rolling around in separate bins and some woman would push a button to make one float up. And there you had it; three numbers which you could play straight, boxed, play the first two, the last two — whatever.

The odds were all different but it was the action that gave people the juice. Then, of course, there was the big million dollar lottery game. Everyone wanted a chance at that one. I actually had a regular named Dennis who hit for $15 million dollars. I had gone off to college before then and found out about it when I saw him at a bar one night. Listening to him explain how he watched it live on TV gave me goosebumps. Needless to say, he didn’t sleep that night.

As time grew, the New York State Lottery, now the New York State Gaming Commission, got more involved and added Keno games to the mix. There would be 80 numbers blowing around in a huge bubble and 20 would be drawn out. If you had 10 of them you would hit for $100 thousand. If you had 9 out of 10 you’d win $5 thousand and so on. If you had 0 numbers you got $10. You could even bet on hitting one number. Non-stop action.

Then the gaming commission decided to put Keno machines in bars and convenient stores. Now, there are computer generated games every four minutes. The bar or establishment would get five percent of all sales and 1.5 percent of winning tickets. It varies today from state to state today.

As far as the multi-million dollar games such as Powerball, if the winning ticket came from your store or bar, the establishment’s owner would get $10,000-$50,000, all depending now on what rules your state has on the books. Licensing fees in the 45 states that have lotteries range from $25-$150 and they’ll train you on the equipment. The District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands also are on board with lotteries.

Joining the coalition of lottery states makes complete fiscal sense. I say, the more games the better. We live in a boring state for most of the year so why not be able to sit at a bar and play some money on Keno every four minutes and then go home and watch a daily number get drawn at 8 p.m. Most people play their birthdays on the pick three and most play addresses on the pick four. At least that was always my experience.

Alaska has this “We’re not going to go down that road” attitude when it comes to things that we inevitably will end up doing at some point. Everyone is afraid it will make people poor and it might for some. Thinkprogressive.org reports that a person loses $.47 for every dollar they bet on the lottery. For some of us who have played rippies those odds would be a blessing. I also see that we have no problem pushing weed and alcohol on people. As far as the non-profits that would cry foul because they’d lose money off their pull tabs, Alaska could just give them a small percentage of the gambling intake. There will be plenty to go around. Problem solved.

In 2018-2019 the New York State Lottery annual report showed that the state brought in $10.29 billion altogether. This includes sales and payouts. State education aid received $3.47 billion of that money and for the last ten years education aid has never been below $3 billion annually.

Maybe, for once, we can give taxing alcohol a break and utilize gambling funds to pay for budgetary shortfalls. I still think it’s lazy legislation not to tax coffee instead of booze, but no assembly member dare touches that drug of choice. I always wondered why.

Gambling will help fund school districts so we don’t have to get another property tax hike because we have no other revenue in this state to offset our ridiculous school budgets and inflated administrative staff, compliments of Carol Comeau in her heyday. I’m glad our newly renovated schools won architectural awards with stained glass windows but burdening property owners with consistent tax increases wasn’t worth the cathedral look.

Gambling may be Alaska’s only way out of a deep hole that looks to get deeper. Pebble Mine will probably never happen and a liquified natural gas pipeline is at least 15 years out.

Tourists will love gambling during the summer and regulars will enjoy it when it’s dark. In every other state that’s embraced it, it’s been a winner and school districts get more than their fair share as property owners may actually decide to stay instead of moving out of state.

In the end, restaurants, bars, and convenient stores in other states see an average increase of $25,000 per year to their bottom line, just by having one machine selling tickets and that doesn’t include the increase in beverages and food.

I would highly recommend Alaska get into horse racing and sports book in addition to the lottery. That is something tourists from the southern states and California would find especially attractive. Simulcast tracks from around the country during the summer and in the winter let locals gamble on NFL games.

As the Roman philosopher, Seneca once said, “Luck is what happenswhen preparation meets opportunity,” and that time is right now, Alaska.

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