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Don't laugh, but SAC professor Gerald Busald is looking for honesty in the lottery commission

"Why should I be pointing out there should be truth in government? I'm a math professor."

For the past eight years, San Antonio College's Gerald Busald has assigned his statistics students to analyze the Texas Lottery, in which they've embarrassed the state's lottery commission by uncovering mathematical flaws in reports, misleading language in lottery advertising, and half-truths about odds.

Gerald Busald (Photo by Lisa Sorg)

Since June, when the Executive Director Reagan Greer, whose resume includes stints as Bexar County District Clerk and Governor Rick Perry's Bexar County campaign coordinator, resigned after he inflated Texas Lotto jackpot numbers to spur ticket sales, the state's legalized gambling again has been under scrutiny.

Ironically, Busald, who often testifies before the commission and is arguably the lottery's most rabid watchdog, has been named to an eight-member search committee that will recommend the next commissioner. (The lottery commission has the final say.) Busald spoke with the Current about gambling, greed, and the culture of dishonesty at the state agency.

What do you mean when you say "the culture of the commission"?

The lottery is part of government but it operates like big business. They have a charge: The legislature depends on the lottery to produce lots of income, whatever it takes. The best way is just be honest as possible and people will still buy tickets.

How do you change the culture? What changes do you want?

It starts with the commissioners. They have to say, Sales are not everything. I believe the pressure on the executive director is for sales. What I want changed is how they react to a mistake. I want them to be honest. People like to gamble. I wish the state weren't the bookie, but it's a fact, so I want it to be as honest as possible.

What changes would you like to see in the Texas Lottery?

For example, in Ohio, when they advertise a jackpot, they say what it's really worth. The amount Texas advertises, say $150 million is the amount if you take it over 25 years; the amount is a lot less if you take the winnings now.

What are the odds in the Mega Millions?

1 in 175 million. It was 1 in 145 million but they made the odds worse when they added California. They don't want people to win, so they have to make it harder.

Does each number have an equal chance of coming up?

Hopefully. I prefer the bouncing balls. There have been bad experiences with computer-generated games. In Arizona, they put a Pick 3 game on the computer, but the 9 kept not coming up. They had to close the game. It wasn't in the program. The problem is it puts in a chance for mischief. It has a human element in it.

Do you play the lottery?

Oh yeah, I buy a ticket. If I ever won, the press conference would be very interesting.

What would you do if you won?

I'd have to apologize to all the people who couldn't afford it and bought tickets.

Do you think there is a difference between poker and the lottery?

Oh yeah, poker is a skill. In blackjack, there's a math component; that's why I could do so well in tournaments.

Are you a card counter?

Of course, but so were other players.

An argument against lotteries is that they seem to target the poor.

I gamble. I play poker. I've been fifth place in $100,000 blackjack tournaments in Vegas. I've won gambling. But there I didn't feel like I was taking from the poor. It wasn't homeless people buying scratch-off tickets. What I think is happening, and this is really sad, is that $10 million isn't enough, $100 million is getting close. They're estimating that on Mega Millions they'll have a half-billion jackpot. To me, it's criminal to take that much money from so many and give it to one person. The amounts have gotten out of hand. They used to have a gazillion winners a year. Now more money is going to just one person.

What qualities are you looking for in a new executive director?

Honesty and strength of character. You're not going to be run over by who's there. You'll say no.

What are the odds you'll find the executive director with the right qualities?

Slim. I won't say none.

What's slim in numerical terms?

Oh, I don't know. Better than the odds of winning Mega Millions.

By Lisa Sorg

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