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SD Lottery: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

July 20, 2012, 10:00 PM by Don Jorgensen

SD Lottery: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

The South Dakota Lottery turns 25 this year and the state agency is kicking off a months-long celebration with the unveiling of an official logo commemorating the milestone.  But not everyone is celebrating.

It started as a simple game in 1987, but it barely scratches the surface of what the state's lottery has become in its 25 years of existence and often referred to as the state's cash cow.

"I think the lottery has been a good thing for South Dakota," state lottery director Norm Lingle said.

Lingle says the lottery brings in tens of millions of dollars to the state every year that is split up to help take some of the tax burden off of South Dakotans.

"It's a very important component when you look at where the lottery proceeds go, with scratch tickets going to the general fund, lotto to general fund. Then you have video lottery that goes to the property tax reduction fund," Lingle said. "We generate a significant amount of money that goes to help education."

That's the good of the state's lottery; now prepare to meet the bad.

"I always remember the one day I wrote 13 $100 checks at the casino and they kept taking them, probably the first three were good," Doug said.

Doug didn't want to be identified and is a recovering gambling addict.  He says the lottery ruined his life.  We'll call him Doug for this story.

Doug says video lottery was the main culprit. It started out as fun, just like anything else he says, but quickly grew into an addiction he couldn't handle and wasn't truthful to his wife, family or even himself.

"You just lie, I became a professional liar, lied about where you were, how much time you spent, what you did and then you start lying on top of lies and can't remember what you lied about," Doug said.

The truth was, gambling was costing Doug dearly.

"Through all that, I lost a 20 plus year relationship, lost jobs, terribly in debt. I was over $30,000 in debt," Doug said.

But that was just the beginning of what turned out to be 12 years of total hell. 

Then came the ugly.

Doug began cashing paycheck after paycheck only to spend every dime of it on video lottery.  It not only cost Doug his marriage, he had to sell the house. The money he got from his share, believe it or not, he spent on video lottery.  He even cashed in retirement accounts.

"One of the 401k's I cashed in was 14 grand," Doug said.

Don: And where did that all go?
Doug: Video Lottery.

Doug says he always thought he was going to win enough money someday to get out of debt but he never did.

Recognizing the social ills of what the lottery was doing to people's lives, four attempts were made to repeal South Dakota's video lottery. All of them were widely rejected by public votes.

"I think that speaks highly, not only the purpose of the lottery, but also the way it's been operated," Lingle said. 

But that's little consolation to people like Doug, who are still dealing with their addictions.

"The last time I gambled was August 4, 2006," Doug said. "I got paid that morning, a two week paycheck with overtime at six a.m. I went to Wal-Mart cashed my check and I was sitting at the casino by seven a.m. when the door opened and by 9:30 a.m. the whole paycheck was gone."

After six years of not gambling, Doug is debt free and is still in recovery attending meetings three nights a week. The state sets aside over $200,000 a year to help gamblers with their addictions, but Doug says that's a small percentage compared to what it takes in.

If you or someone you know has a gambling addiction and needs help, call Gamblers Anonymous at 877.762.3740 or visit Keystone Treatment Center's web site.

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