Legendary rocker Pat Benatar and her husband Neil Giraldo are headlining the Colorado State Fair in Pueblo over Labor Day weekend.
But until Wednesday, fans couldn’t purchase actual tickets for the show.
That’s because the Sept. 3 concert is being sponsored by the Colorado Lottery. Instead of purchasing a ticket, fans were required to buy at least $30 in Powerball, Mega Millions, Colorado Lotto+ or Lucky for Life slips. Without buying lottery tickets, would-be concertgoers were out of luck.
But lottery officials backpedaled Wednesday afternoon after The Denver Post relayed concerns from gambling awareness organizations, who expressed outrage over how this tactic might impact those battling addiction. Earlier in the day, a lottery spokesperson defended the practice, saying the organization had sponsored concerts at the State Fair for years.
Now, though, people interested in attending Benatar’s show without playing the lottery will be able to purchase $45 tickets through the Colorado State Fair box office, either in person or over the phone, said Meghan Dougherty, a lottery spokesperson.
“We do appreciate feedback from the industry,” Dougherty said.
Lottery experts, earlier Wednesday, said they had never encountered a situation like this one.
“Pat Benatar’s greatest hit might be ‘Heartbreaker,’ but the Colorado Lottery never misses an opportunity to play its own greatest hit: backbreaker,” said Les Bernal, national director for Stop Predatory Gambling and Campaign for Gambling-Free Kids.
On its website, the lottery promotes the concert as an $85 value to see Benatar and Giraldo “on our dime.”
“We’re all fired up!” lottery officials said on the promotion.
But the show isn’t on the lottery’s dime, Bernal said — it’s paid for by low-income Coloradans who view the lottery as a financial lifeboat. The Colorado Lottery brought in $796 million in revenue in 2021, according to its annual report. More than 30% of players who bought a ticket made less than $45,000 a year as a household.
“In order for you to buy a ticket, you have to participate in the purchase of a dangerous and addictive product,” Bernal said.
Jonathan D. Cohen, an author who has extensively researched state lotteries, said it’s not uncommon for lotteries to sponsor state fairs or even concerts. But he said he’s never seen gambling used as a prerequisite to see part of the fair.
“They’re getting people who don’t play the lottery habituated and socialized,” he said. “Like, ‘Oh, I had to play the lottery — now I know how to buy the tickets.’ So the next time there’s a billion-dollar jackpot, they know where to go. That seems like the ulterior motive behind this tactic.”
Tamarinde Doane, a Colorado Springs resident, grew excited when she saw Benatar’s name on the State Fair website. But she thought back to a friend’s family who lost their home over a gambling habit and couldn’t pull the trigger on scratch tickets to see the show.
“Maybe other people don’t see this as concerning, but it doesn’t fully pass my ethical test of equitable access,” she said.
The bigger question lurking behind all of this, Cohen said, is that this isn’t a private company trying to juice sales. This is a government agency — with the sole goal of raising money for the state.
“If (a major corporation) was running the lottery, this is how they’d do it,” he said. “The fact that it’s the state should give people more pause.”
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