Many Gamble On Dreams, But Few Get Help

keteyian CBS

According to experts, an estimated six to eight million Americans are now addicted to some form of gambling. Overall, more than $100 billion was spent gambling legally in this country last year, including more than $50 billion on one form that has health experts worried whether states running it have their priorities in place, CBS News chief investigative reporter Armen Keteyian reports.

Walk into any Texas convenience store and it's a good bet you'll find someone playing a numbers game.

Sixty-five million dollars is spent each and every week on the Texas state-run lottery - up to 80 different games offering instant gratification.

"It's addictive. Why do people smoke cigarettes and drink beer?" one lottery customer said.

Texas state legislator Garnet Coleman has represented the Third Ward in Houston for 17 years.

Folks there gamble $50 million a year on the lottery - the highest in the state.

"Is a drug dealer responsible for the drugs they sell to a person?" Coleman asked. "If somebody says 'yeah,' then the state is responsible for hooking people on gambling."

State-sponsored lotteries - now legal in 42 states and the District of Columbia - have exploded since 2001, up 33 percent, raking in a record $57.4 billion last year.

Action, experts insist, that can play right into addiction.

"We see people who have destroyed their lives by playing the lottery exclusively," said Keith Whyte of the National Council on Problem Gambling.

Bill O. and Mark L. got hooked on the lottery.

"I lost about $125,000," Bill said.

"I would spend $25 to $30 a day," Mark said.

Bobby Heith, the communications director for the Texas lottery, said, "We would like to be able to provide resources for those people that may have a problem."

How much money each year does his state spend on that?

"We don't have appropriated dollars to spend on it," he said.

So for a $3.8 billion a year business, there's nothing?

"That's correct," he said.

CBS News asked every lottery state to tell us how much they spend on help-lines or play responsibly campaigns.

Of the 38 states that responded, states which are responsible for more than $51 billion in lottery sales, only about $18 million - less than one-tenth of one percent - went to prevention and treatment services.

Whyte, from the National Council on Problem Gambling, said: "State government has a conflict of interest. And all too often, we see the revenue win out over the health and welfare."

The welfare of people addicted to gambling their dollars - on dreams.
  • Armen Keteyian

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