With the spin of a tabletop roulette wheel, set up beside a mock yellow school bus parked on Genesee Street at Jefferson Avenue, passers-by could win a free New York State Lottery T-shirt or hat.
If they looked at the information on fold-out panels connected to the vehicle or picked up lottery brochures, they learned how the state shares lottery revenues with public schools.
But after a Buffalo assemblyman complained Wednesday to Gov. Pataki about using a simulated school bus to promote lottery games, the bus cut short its visit to the East Side and left town.
In a letter to the governor, Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, an outspoken gambling opponent, demanded an immediate halt to the promotion.
Citing last week's report by the New York Council on Problem Gambling, which warned of a steep rise in gambling addiction among teens, Hoyt said he was "absolutely appalled" by the use of an education symbol to advance lottery games.
No matter that the lottery's blue, yellow and orange logo covered the back of the bus or that the windowless side panels bore the message: "New York State Lottery: Making All of Our Lives a Little Richer."
"It's impossible to disconnect the symbol and the study," Hoyt insisted.
"By using a school bus, we are teaching our children that gambling at an early age is a good thing," he told Pataki. "The next thing we'll see is Joe Camel driving an ice cream truck, giving out cigarettes."
The Lottery Division strongly disagreed.
"There is absolutely no connection" between the bus and teen gambling, said Rob Hayes, a lottery spokesman.
Since the bus began traversing the state in 1996, after debuting at the Erie County Fair, it has informed the public of the educational benefits of lottery games, he said.
For example, in fiscal 1997-98, school districts in the state received $1.5 billion from the lottery -- everything left over after lottery winners and administrative expenses were paid. Erie County schools got $96.5 million.
"The bus is designed to be an interactive display, with brochures, public service messages and giveaways," Hayes said. "The bottom line is, the lottery supports education."