State Lottery officials are wagering a new advertising campaign will persuade young adults to take a chance on the Numbers Game, a contest with an aging player population.
The state Lottery Commission last week extended its contract with advertising firm Hill Holliday of Boston for one year at $10 million, Executive Director Joseph Sullivan said.
Part of the strategy will be to focus advertising in a place where Lottery officials believe they can reach more people in their 30s and 40s — the Internet, state Treasurer Timothy Cahill, who oversees the Lottery Commission, said last week.
Some worry advertising meant to woo younger players raises the stakes too high and some might become addicted.
"You can understand, on one hand, why they would be doing this," said Phillip Jutras, a management and leadership professor who teaches marketing at Regis College in Weston. "It's a good marketing thing. It's a clever thing, but the question for us all, is it the responsible thing for government to be doing?"
Cahill, who is 47, said he doesn't know anyone younger than him who plays the Numbers Game, a staple of the Lottery lineup since its first drawing in 1976. Data on Numbers Game players' ages was not available yesterday, but officials have said the core group has stuck with the game since its launch.
The commission has not yet talked through ad concepts with Hill Holiday, Neil Morrison, first deputy treasurer, said this week.
Officials at the state Council on Compulsive Gambling have some concerns about the new campaign, said Kathleen Scanlan, the council's executive director.
"Hopefully, the Lottery can do some advertising to help young people do it safety," said Scanlan. "College students will experiment with a variety of behaviors."
Ads should help younger folks see they do not have to gamble to have fun, and they should never make illegal bets or gamble when they are vulnerable — intoxicated or depressed, said Scanlan.
"The problem isn't the gambling, it's the people who develop a problem," said Scanlan. "Way before the Lottery and casinos, there was gambling."
The Council on Compulsive Gambling has worked recently with Worcester State College, Stonehill College, Springfield College and Tufts University to update their policies on gambling to include stronger punishments and tips for getting help for addiction.
The Lottery funnels about $1 million annually to the council for its awareness campaigns.
Maria Saxionis, a licensed and independent clinical social worker, said more young people, in middle school and up, are being drawn into gambling addiction. The diagnostic statistical manual, used by most professionals, says an addicted person must have "discrete episodes of failure to resist the impulsive acts," among other traits, she said.
"Most people believe people addicted to gambling are the people who go to Las Vegas, Foxwoods and Atlantic City," said Saxionis, who has a private practice in Ashland, consults with several schools and teaches at Bridgewater State College. "It's just sort of a myth."
Student gamblers are also showing more aggressive behavior, such as taking a leather jacket or an iPod as payments for betting debts, Saxionis said.
So-called online games — including the Numbers Game and Keno, in which players select numbers that are printed on cards spit out of a blue lottery machine — make up about 22 percent of the state Lottery's revenue.
The Numbers Game is the Lottery's third-best performing game, after scratch tickets and Keno, generating 7.9 percent of the agency's $4.5 billion in last year's record-setting revenues, according to Lottery officials.
Out of the revenues, $2.3 billion was paid out to Lottery winners this year, and more than $936 million — last year's figure — was preliminarily tallied for delivery as local aid to cities and towns, officials said.
"Cities across the commonwealth would not be able to operate without the additional funding that we get from the Lottery," which forces lawmakers into supporting "state-sanctioned gambling," said state Rep. Vincent Pedone, D-Worcester.
But along with advertising the Lottery, the state has a responsibility to identify and treat "problem gamblers," said Pedone, who leads the legislative committee that reviews Lottery bills.
Regis College's Jutras agrees. He wonders if Lottery aid for cities and towns could be earmarked for specific purposes such as education or technical training.
"Not everyone who buys a lottery ticket is going to have a problem, but the numbers start to add up," said Jutras. "The government has a social responsibility that's much bigger than any responsibility a business has."