Tvonia Thomas said that scratch lotto games were consuming every aspect of her life in Virginia.
Though he rarely hit big jackpots, Thomas told ABC News Live that the rush to hit the convenience store for those tickets was stronger than the urge to eat a meal.
“It feels like your heart is about to explode, but you love it,” said the recovering addict. “You don’t know what’s behind that glitter under that note.”
Thomas is not alone. Some addiction specialists say more people are battling these extreme compulsions for scratch-off tickets and state officials need to step up to curb the problem which they say disproportionately affects minorities and low-income gamblers.
A 2022 national survey of state lotteries conducted by the Howard Center For Investigative Journalism at the University of Maryland found that ticket shops are disproportionately clustered in low-income communities in nearly every state where the game is played .
The Tax Foundation, a non-profit think tank, said about 60% of state lottery earnings go directly to winners.
Les Bernal, the national director of the nonprofit group Stop Predatory Gambling, told ABC News that while states use revenue from lottery sales to fund services like education, they do so on the backs of low-income residents. .
“This is definitely a form of systemic racism that has occurred,” he said. “They shifted the tax burden away from middle-class taxpayers [and] from the property”.
Billy Hoffman, a gambling consultant, told ABC News that even if they don’t win, gambling addicts still have the urge to look for more shots at the jackpot.
“They’re trying to find a way out, and that leads them further and further into the hole,” he said.
Thomas said his addiction got so bad he had suicidal thoughts. Eventually, she secured a scholarship to an addiction recovery program at Williamsville Wellness in Virginia.
“The first day, it was like a breath of fresh air. I saved myself. I didn’t get the opportunity to gamble,” she said.
Critics of the lottery have called out states for failing to distribute the revenue to public services and programs needed to combat gambling addiction.
The Virginia Lottery, which uses game proceeds to fund public schools, received a D grade in 2022 from the nonprofit group, The Education Law Center, for the way it awards money to high-poverty districts.
In a statement to ABC News, the Virginia Lottery said it “has a proven track record of working to raise awareness of problem gambling and game addiction, going far beyond what is required by law.”
“While Virginia law requires all lottery profits to go to K-12 education, the lottery has repeatedly been recognized as an industry leader when it comes to using its resources and high public profile to raise awareness and encourage the responsible gaming,” the Virginia Lottery said.
Hoffman said more lottery profits need to be directed towards helping people who are battling addiction.
Thomas agreed and urged others who are struggling with these compulsions to seek help.
“It wasn’t about the money, it was about continuing to play and to escape and be in my dreamland,” she said.
If you need help with a gambling problem, contact 1-800-Gambler. If you have suicidal thoughts or other mental health crises, call or text 988.
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