Lane Filler - That Mega Millions lottery ticket is tricking you

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At one time, when I heard the strains of "Thank You For Being a Friend," I'd flash back to my daughter's infancy. She wasn't a great sleeper, and often when she'd wake us up, the only thing on TV was "The Golden Girls," for which that Andrew Gold-penned song was the theme.

The show was hypnotic, and seemingly on 24/7. At first, I argued that if we were going to watch something 24 hours a day, "SportsCenter" was a better choice for the nipper, but eventually I grew into a guilty affection for the show.

Now when I hear "Thank You For Being a Friend," all I can think is: If this lottery advertising convinces more people to play and I have to stand behind them in line at the 7-Eleven as they rattle off numbers like "Rain Man" counting the grains of sand at Jones Beach, someone's getting a mini churro to the back of the head.

That song, you see, is central to a New York Lottery marketing campaign called "Everybody Wins." In the TV spot now airing, a man in a convenience store asks the clerk for a scratch-off and crazy-cute children (from the singing Gibson Group of Haven Academy in the South Bronx) launch a rousing version of "Thank You For Being a Friend."

The theory underlying the campaign is that, because all proceeds from the lottery in New York go to education, you are doing kids a favor when you gamble in this fashion. That this is not true, and that the state is misleading its residents into gambling away their hard-earned money, makes the campaign a disgrace.

The lottery began in New York in 1968 and every penny of profit has gone to schools. But all the money that has gone to education from the lottery has been offset by less school support from the state's general fund. Increased lottery spending does not increase school funding, and often in years when lottery proceeds increased substantially, the state cut education funding.

Whether lottery money had ever increased education spending was such a contentious issue that in 1998 then-state Comptroller Carl McCall undertook an in-depth study of the question.

The conclusion: absolutely not. Asked about this perspective, a state lottery spokesman emailed a statement saying all lottery proceeds go to education, but lottery officials have no control of how much money the state sets aside for schools in addition to lottery money. Which is really my point, reworded.

The Mega Millions drawing (last) Tuesday night had a jackpot of $400 million, and I bought tickets. I have nothing against vice. I've given up the vices that caused me to awaken in a jail cell in Montreal facing charges of piracy on the high seas and impersonating a licensed veal inspector, but even those I still support philosophically.

But I despise state-run vice.

In Pennsylvania, where I lived for years, the state owns the liquor stores. They are a major source of revenue, which puts the state in the position of trying to persuade its citizens to drink more -- via specials and lying marketing that suggests folks in Wilkes-Barre will be really sexy if they just drink more Scotch (as if anyone could drink more Scotch than the folks in Wilkes-Barre) -- to fill coffers.

It's grotesque, as is a campaign to persuade New Yorkers to spend on lottery tickets because it will help schools.

If you want excitement, spend a few bucks on lottery tickets. But if you, inspired by the song "Thank You For Being a Friend," want to help educate kids, you're better off buying them "Golden Girls" DVDs. Those gals had wisdom.

(Lane Filler is a member of the New York Newsday editorial board.)

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