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KENO CAN’T BE FLORIDA ACE IN HOLE

The Florida Lottery is approaching its fifth birthday, but instead of experiencing a growth spurt typical of your average child, the state-sponsored game of (very little) chance is suffering from shrinking pains.

Ticket sales during 1992 dropped by $100 million to $2.06 billion, compared to 1990’s record high of $2.28 billion. If the current trend continues for the remaining six months of the fiscal year, the state will realize only $733 million in profits from the lottery to fund educational enhancement programs. The record take of $884 million occurred in 1991.

Lottery Secretary Marcia Mann tends to downplay the negative projections, blaming the slump on the recession, the still-infant tourist season and the long absence of a mega-jackpot.

But there are ominous signs that the novelty has worn off this ultimate sucker bet and the state is going to have to run even faster in its role as official shill just to remain in place.

While disillusionment with the 14-million-to-1 odds against winning surely has played a role in cooling public enthusiasm, the Lottery Department hasn’t helped its cause by introducing a confusing variety of other games designed to separate Floridians from their bankrolls. From Cash 3 to Play 4 to Fantasy 5 to various scratch-off games, there is a different wagering scheme for every taste, pocketbook and day of the week, all brought to you by The Great Bookmaker in Tallahassee.

Some states that preceded Florida in the legalized numbers racket have experienced similar downturns. California, which once sold $2.6 billion worth of tickets in a single year, peddled only half that amount last year, leading officials to jack up their advertising budget and introduce a new scam called Keno.

Keno is an especially addictive pastime in that players can sit on a barstool and try to guess which of 80 numbers will flash on a television screen in electronic drawings held every five minutes for prizes up to $250,000. Four other states, including Maryland, have instituted Keno and Florida is considering it.

Aside from another Hurricane Andrew, it’s difficult to conceive of anything Florida needs less right now than another gambling game. Gov. Lawton Chiles ought to waste no time in informing the creative croupiers of the Lottery Department that Keno is a no-no.

KENO CAN’T BE FLORIDA ACE IN HOLE The Florida Lottery is approaching its fifth birthday, but instead of experiencing a growth spurt typical of your average child, the state-sponsored game of