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Governing Gambling

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SELLING HOPE by Charles T. Clotfelter and Philip J. Cook, Cambridge, Mass.:,

Harvard University Press, 323 pp., $29.95

WHEN professors of public policy collaborate on a work sponsored by the National Bureau of Economic Research, the result is likely to bring on the need for a nap in most people. But this book by two gentlemen from Duke University had me grinding my teeth, muttering under my breath, underlining like crazy, and littering the margins with exclamation points.

It's not that this detailed study of the ``third wave'' of gambling in America is filled with human drama or pungent narrative or particularly forceful writing. There's hardly a colorful anecdote about a subject that is filled with drama.

Instead, good researchers that they are, Clotfelter and Cook let the specifics of their study - heavily loaded with charts and graphs and footnotes - sustain the message without sermonizing.

The message is this: State governments are encouraging millions of people - including many children - to gamble. They are running gambling monopolies that aggressively market a government ``product'' using the most sophisticated techniques, including deception and hype. They are feeding on fantasies, undermining the work and savings ethic at a time when productivity and efficiency in the United States need all the help they can get, and in the process harming the public perception of government itself.

Beginning with New Hampshire in the mid-1960s, states began to adopt lotteries for these reasons: To raise revenues for worthwhile endeavors like education and public works; to undercut illegal gambling and thereby reduce corruption; and because most citizens apparently had no objection.

Many political leaders and church officials (except the Roman Catholic clergy) argued against state-sponsored gambling on moral grounds. But when referenda and opinion polls showed lotteries had wide public appeal, the politicians - acting as followers rather than leaders - went for what many saw as a ``painless tax.'' The result: three-fourths of all Americans live in states with government lotteries.

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