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May 25, 2014

Lottery director promotes the good in gaming

Indiana Council on Problem Gaming has lauded recent efforts by lottery officials

INDIANAPOLIS — The state lottery produces a multitude of losing tickets every week, but its director has a message that she hopes will make people feel better about their odds.

Sarah Taylor is tapping years as a local government leader to sell the virtues of the Hoosier Lottery. Hired seven months ago to lead the lottery into its 25th year, she is touring the state to promote the civic good in Indiana’s oldest form of state-sanctioned gambling.

While meeting mayors, speaking to service groups and taking the stage during breaks of the traveling “Hoosier Millionaire” game show, Taylor talks up the lottery proceeds that flow back to state and local government.

“Everybody wins,” she says.

Since the lottery’s inception in 1989, more than $4.2 billion has gone into the pension funds of firefighters, police officers and teachers, and into the Build Indiana Fund that pays for big-ticket projects in communities.

“As we’ve built our brand, we’ve realized how important that message is to get out,” said Taylor, a former Marion County Clerk and aide to Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard.

There’s nothing new about selling the lottery as good for Indiana. Its backers had to convince voters in 1988 that it was a stable source of revenue to overcome a coalition of church-based opponents.

But there’s now renewed emphasis on the message as the lottery’s private partner increases efforts to grow revenues and bring new players into the game.

Hired in late 2012 to market the lottery and manage its games, GE Tech launched an aggressive campaign promoting it as a dream-maker. The “Imagine That” campaign encouraged people to consider how they would spend their winnings — without mentioning the long shot odds of hitting the jackpot (about 1 in 12 million for the Hoosier Lotto.)

Lottery revenues are up: Fiscal 2013 set a record and produced about $228 million for state and local governments. This year is projected to be even better, with an anticipated $248 million return.

But that aggressive approach has critics.

At a meeting this week, Taylor, whose role includes overseeing the lottery marketing plan, had to tell GE Tech officials that a proposed game with a bingo theme looked too much like Internet gaming. Gov. Mike Pence, who stopped an expansion of casino gambling in Indiana last year, has made it clear he opposes anything that looks or feels like Internet gaming, Taylor said.  

“Our charge is to maximize the revenues the lottery brings in,” she said, “but we have an obligation to do that in a socially responsible way.”

That message appeals to a socially conservative state that reaps millions from the lottery.

“It’s been a huge boon for the state and hasn’t seem to come with any kind of negative social cost,” said Ed Feigenbaum, publisher of Indiana Gaming Insight, who’s chronicled gambling in Indiana since it was legalized.

Taylor intentionally portrays the lottery as a force for good, he said. When talking about how its proceeds are used, for example, she describes the “good causes” that lottery sales support.

And Taylor, along with the state Lottery Commission, are working to counter the image that only losers play the lottery, Feigenbaum said.

In its plan for increasing sales, the commission has committed to curtailing advertising in zip codes where household earnings are less than 60 percent of the statewide median. In February, the Indiana Council on Problem Gaming lauded the commission for its efforts.

Among those who’ve welcomed Taylor’s approach is Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett. He was in the audience for the touring “Hoosier Millionaire” game show at Indiana State University last week.

“I don’t think people realize where the money really goes,” Bennett said. “But I know we couldn’t do without it.”

— Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana. Reach her at maureen.hayden@indianamediagroup.com. Follow her on Twitter @MaureenHayden

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Barbara Brewster has been the organ player at Faith Lutheran Church in Jeffersonville for the past 50 years. Brewster began playing organ with the church in August of 1964 at the age of 17.

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