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Exponent view -- Thursday, Feb. 4, 1999

The state lottery has an obligation to help gambling addicts
A state lottery official announced earlier this week that a counseling program is being developed for problem gamblers. It’s a positive step, but one that should have been taken a lot sooner.
And somehow, Lottery Commission Director John Musgrave seemed a little less than enthusiastic in making the statement.
Now, we won’t argue against the benefits that the West Virginia Lottery reaps for our state. Proceeds are put to good use through education, senior citizens’ and tourism programs. Why, it can almost make you feel good about losing, knowing that your loss at least helped the Mountain State in some small way.
But for many, there’s a darker side to this whole lottery deal. Yes, there really are gambling addicts; individuals who play weekly, if not daily, in hopes of that big windfall.
It’s an addiction that’s relatively easy to understand, likely because we all feel its pull on varying levels. The lottery represents the ultimate fantasy: Put down a single dollar and get millions back in return. Never have to worry about bills again. Never have to work again. Be happy for the rest of your life.
It’s a hard-to-resist temptation, and one that often affects even the staunchest critics of the lottery. After all, who among us hasn’t plopped down a buck when the lottery has reached a gargantuan amount and the whole town is talking about it? We might joke about buying a ticket, but somewhere in the back of our minds, there’s at least be the passing thought, “I’m the one.” Otherwise, we wouldn’t have purchased the ticket in the first place.
The sad irony is, this lure undoubtedly has the greatest impact on those who can afford it the least. For those struggling to get by on a daily basis — to put food on the table, to pay the bills — the odds against winning are meaningless.
To them, risking a single dollar one time might just get them out of their crummy situation. Problem is, one time turns into two, then three and so on. An obsession to “play until they win” can quickly develop.
Ask any of them why they’re wasting so much of their money playing, and you’ll inevitably hear the same response: “Well, someone’s got to win. And I’ve got just as good a chance as anyone.”
True, maybe; but extremely unlikely.
We made reference earlier to Lottery Commission Director Musgrave’s seemingly apathetic attitude concerning the program. In making the announcement, he stated, “I think there’s a perception that there is a problem out there more than there is a problem.” Musgrave went on to say that his office only receives one or two calls a year from problem gamblers.
That may be true. But as with any addiction, it’s usually the addict who is the last to admit he has a problem. And that’s usually only after he or she has hit absolute rock bottom.
The majority of West Virginians who play the lottery probably don’t have a gambling problem. But for those who do — those who are spending money on lottery tickets that would be better spent on their families — we would hope that the Lottery Commission puts aside a substantial amount of money and effort toward helping them.
It’s the responsible thing to do.

Today’s editorial reflects the opinion of the Exponent editorial board, which includes William J. Sedivy, John G. Miller, Julie R. Cryser, James Logue, Kevin Courtney and Cecil Jarvis.



Telegram view -- Thursday, Feb 4, 1999
Study’s ranking of state shows improvement, but there are miles to go
For a long time the State of West Virginia has stood to improve on how it manages its money, so it was with a touch of gratitude that a study by a group at Syracuse University gave the state an overall grade of C-plus in five categories. But before any state officials start taking bows, they should also recognize that the study showed the Mountain State’s C-plus grade was better than only 14 other states.
Perhaps it is just one study, but we in West Virginia can ill-afford to rest on these newest lukewarm laurels. We must do everything in our power — the energetic kind, not the political — to improve where improvement is needed.
Neighboring Virginia, Washington and Utah fared best in the study by the Maxwell School of Citizenship & Public Affairs of SU and also Governing magazine, each with an A-minus. Alabama received the worst overall grade, a D.
Financial management was the category in which West Virginia received a “B.” But the state received a less glowing report on: human resources (people), a C-plus; information technology, C; capital management, C-plus, and managing for results (planning), C.
The report said of the state’s financial management: “Long saddled with a reputation for financial management that ranged from the inept to the corrupt, West Virginia is making a commendable effort to get its house in order. The state’s books are now in solid structural balance, and revenue and expenditure estimates have been reasonably accurate — although Medicaid remains a problem, running more than 8 percent over budget in the most recent fiscal year.”
The study revealed that on capital management, the state has a backlog of renovation needs, adding that there is no unified capital improvement plan, although agencies do create prioritized capital requests for a five-year period and update them annually.
Pertaining to human resources, the report said the state has reduced the number of classification titles to 750 from 1,800 and a number of agencies have increased hirings through streamlining an approval process that often required numerous signatures to hire just one worker. While the state was recognized for a reasonably high priority having been placed on its training, the study indicated that work force planning is minimal and agency salaries are still a problem.
As we stated, West Virginia received C’s in managing for results and information technology. The report said all departments, agencies and programs in the state have goals and plans for accomplishing those goals. “The state doesn’t have a formal strategic plan,” reviewers wrote, “but the governor develops his own, consisting of goals and objectives he  personally wishes to accomplish.”
And what about information technology? “The state has reasonable management of its information technology, with a chief technology officer reporting directly to the governor, as well as centralized efforts to set policies and standards.”
We feel the report may have hit the nail squarely on the head in saying, “Still, too many sensible plans wind up buried in a pile of dead dreams. ... Meanwhile, procurement policies designed to avoid corruption also can make any sizable purchase into a nightmare of red tape.”
Dan Page, a spokesman for Governor Underwood, pointed out upon release of the report that the findings on information technology do not reflect the governor’s initiatives that have been implemented since he took office, adding that nobody can expect such drastic changes overnight.
We applaud the timeliness of the Syracuse University/Governing report. And we hope our state legislators and financial planners each receive a copy.
 Robert F. Stealey
Telegram Editorial Board chairman


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Copyright Clarksburg Publishing Company 1999