Quick Draw, a keno-style lottery game derided as video crack by gambling critics, could be available 24 hours a day in a thousand more bars and businesses under more-relaxed rules proposed in Gov. Pataki's budget.
The lottery proposal comes at a time when Pataki already is considering an expansion of Indian-owned casino gambling throughout the state.
Buried deep within Gov. Pataki's proposed budget plan are recommendations that would vastly increase the number of bars and other businesses permitted to offer the game and put an end to time restrictions on its operation.
The governor wants to relax rules originally enacted as safeguards for Quick Draw, which has seen its once-booming sales starting to decline.
If the State Legislature approves, restrictions that limit the number of hours in a day outlets can offer Quick Draw would be lifted, meaning there would be nothing preventing the state Lottery Division from running the computerized numbers game 24 hours a day. Rules imposed to keep the games out of small bars would also be lifted.
There's serious money at stake.
Relaxing the present rules is expected to bring the state's coffers an extra $45 million a year.
Quick Draw machines would be placed in at least another 1,000 businesses, which could allow the mini-casino operations in small convenience stores; currently, Quick Draw is available in about 3,200 places, mostly restaurants and large bars.
At the same time, Pataki proposes no increase in what advocates say is the state's paltry $1.5 million program to help compulsive gamblers.
Critics say the Pataki administration is being irresponsible by spreading a state-run game that already has proven addictive to thousands of New Yorkers. After a little more than three years in operation, Quick Draw has been blamed by experts for increasing the number of problem gamblers in the state, totaling about 750,000 people, according to a state-funded research group.
"You'll have these things everywhere. Under these terms you could put them ina phone booth. It's disgusting," said State Sen. Frank Padavan, R-Queens, the Legislature's leading gambling opponent.
From a field of 80 numbers, Quick Draw players, betting a minimum of $1, try to guess from one to 10 winning numbers. What has earned the game the "video crack" tag is that a new game appears on computer monitors once every five minutes, giving people dozens of betting opportunities. Last year, $500 million -- about $100,000 a hour for the maximum 13 hours a day Quick Draw can now be run -- was bet on the keno game; $3.95 billion was spent on all lottery games.
When Quick Draw was approved in 1995, the Pataki administration insisted it would be kept in larger public and private-run places -- covering at least 2,500 square feet -- where adults socialize. An outlet serving alcohol had to make 25 percent of its money serving food if Quick Draw were to be allowed.
The administration insists changes are needed because Quick Draw sales, once booming, are now falling; they were off 4 percent last year.
Besides providing an extra $45 million to the $150 million Quick Draw already makes for the state, the administration says there is no reason not to vastly expand the places that could get the game.
"To date, this game has not produced any of the potentially harmful social or economic consequences envisioned prior to enactment of the Quick Draw game," according to a Pataki memo urging passage of the new bill.
"I don't think that statement is intended to say that not a single person hasn't had a problem, but the game has not produced the gloom and doom many are fearful of," said Rob Hayes, a Lottery Division spokesman.
"Do they think we're crazy or stupid?" Padavan said. "Anyone in their right mind would have to accept the fact that this will make the gambling problem worse."
Not all Quick Draw gamblers were happy with the governor's plan. "They should outlaw it," said an Erie County resident and self-described Quick Draw addict, who spoke on condition of anonymity. For the past three years, the man said he has played Quick Draw every day losing nearly $30,000 -- more than the $20,000 he makes in a year. He said he doesn't do any other form of gambling, but has found the lure of being able to place a bet every five minutes with Quick Draw too much to handle. "Addictive is the word to describe it," he said. "It's just such a simple thing and seems like an easy way to make money. You just wrap yourself up in the game."
He described stopping in at his favorite bar for a drink after work and walking out five hours later after a night of non-stop Quick Draw betting.
"You win just enough to keep you going. . . . I'd go in with $100 and if I walked out at the end of the night with $25 left I still felt like I'd won," he said.
The changes to the Quick Draw rules come as Pataki also is proposing to raise the prize amount of instant, scratch-off lottery tickets by 10 percent. In turn, the allocation to help fund education, where a portion of lottery sales, by law, must go, would drop 10 percent. The Quick Draw game, meanwhile, gives the smallest allotment to education -- 25 percent of sales -- of all the state's lottery games.
Groups representing the state's 50,000 bars and restaurants say the current rules are too prohibitive and have unfairly kept many businesses from getting the game.
Scott Wexler, executive director of the Empire State Restaurant and Tavern Association, said those outlets that already have Quick Draw have seen that the game helps add to alcohol and food sales. "The vast majority of our members who have Quick Draw think it's a good thing," he said.
Not all do, however. Bob Hazelet, co-owner of Bob and John's La Hacienda restaurant on Hertel Avenue, said his customers plunk down up to $500 a day in Quick Draw bets. Yet, he said the game doesn't draw people into his place, in part because bettors have caught on to the long-shot odds of winning.
That doesn't stop some from getting addicted, gambling counselors say.
"Every five minutes they have the chance to feel good," said Matthew Jost, clinical social worker in the gambling recovery program at Jewish Family Services of Buffalo and Erie County, the region's only gambling recovery and prevention program. "It was designed to be addictive."
Jost said at least 30 percent of the gamblers the group treats each year have a problem with Quick Draw. Expanding the game to more places will have a clear effect, Jost said: "They'll do more business and we'll have more problems."
The governor's budget, besides expanding Quick Draw, also would make it permanent; by law, the game expires on March 31 under a sunset provision the Legislature approved when creating the game in 1995.
But Laura Letson, executive director of the New York Council on Problem Gambling, said the Lottery Division was supposed to have conducted a study on the potential adverse impact of the game. She said it is curious that while the study is only being done now, the administration is recommending a sharp expansion of the game.
Seven months after Quick Draw's birth in the fall of 1995, Ms. Letson said, researchers were seeing gambling problem rates for the game mirror those of well-established illegal wagering, like sports gambling. "It typically takes several years for people to develop a problem and we were already seeing people in 1996 having a problem with Quick Draw," said Letson, whose group is funded by the state.
Lottery officials said there currently are 429 Quick Draw outlets in Western New York.
The Pataki administration's plans to add at least 20 Quick Draw outlets each week over the coming year will meet legislative resistance, according to Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, D-Buffalo, a longtime lottery critic.
"It's an awfully irresponsible way to balance the budget and to provide resources to school children," he said. "I don't think the Legislature ought to be drawn into this form of addiction, which becomes addictive for the lottery bureau, the Pataki administration and for legislators to keep being sold on the lottery as a way of gaining revenue."