While the number of games has expanded and receipts have greatly increased, the basic structure of the New York Lottery — and its mission — have remained relatively unchanged over the four decades it has been running, lawmakers and state officials say.
The games, then and now, siphon money away from illegal gambling and help to pay for schools. The lottery was approved by voters, at the urging of then-Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, in a referendum to amend the state constitution in 1966.
The number of lottery games and promotions grew especially quickly during George Pataki's years as governor, starting in 1995, most notably through scratch-off tickets and Quick Draw, a keno-style video lottery game.
"We're pleased that the amount of aid to education has increased from $1.3 billion to $2.2 billion in aid to education," Pataki spokesman Saleem Cheeks said in the waning months of the Pataki administration.
John Cape, who was Pataki's budget director, said, "I think the lottery program has evolved and matured like lottery programs in other states. As the nature of lottery gaming improves and becomes more automated and more sophisticated, the Division of Lottery has changed in order to keep pace with the times."
New York was the second state behind New Hampshire to approve government-run gambling. Last year, North Carolina became the last Eastern state to start a lottery.
The expansion of video lottery terminals "is really the only true policy choice that this administration has made about lottery gaming," Cape said.
The terminals have been introduced at some racetracks and have been big cash generators.
But as prizes have increased and games have proliferated, problems have also gotten bigger.
In August, a Long Island woman pleaded guilty to stealing $2.3 million over a three-year period from a doctor's office where she worked. Annie Donnelly, 38, said she spent the money on scratch-off "instant win" and traditional numbers lottery games.
It's cases of gambling addiction like Donnelly's that have ruined many lives since the lottery was introduced, lottery foes have warned.
Tom Kenney, a Lottery program director, compared the lottery's popularity to the resurgence of poker, especially among college-age people.
"It's similar to how the Texas Hold 'Em craze and cable networks and major networks are helping promote and glamorize poker as if it's actually a sport, so it's tailored and marketed to the youth," he said.
Perhaps not so coincidentally, the state introduced the New York Poker scratch-off game in 2005: a $10 game with a jackpot of $1 million. The odds of hitting the jackpot, which involves having a higher hand than the "dealer," are one in 3,427,200.
That's one of the hundreds of colorful instant-win tickets that the state has introduced over the past 30 years. The Division of Lottery says that 40 new instant-win games are introduced each month, sometimes as tie-ins to popular movies ("King Kong Millions") or for the start of baseball season, such as games featuring Mets and Yankees logos.
Kenney said that while not having a lottery wouldn't end all gambling addiction, expanding the lottery over the years has increased the likelihood that the addiction-prone will develop gambling habits.