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A dollar and a less lucky dream

    It's well established that a disproportionate number of lottery retailers are in the poorest neighborhoods of New York, where the lure of a $1 and a dream is strong.

   But now, an analysis by The Buffalo News found that, not only are the poor more likely to buy lottery tickets, they are more likely to lose as well.

   That's not because poor people are any more or less lucky at lottery than wealthier people. Instead, it's a reflection of the type of lottery games people in poor communities tend to play.

   While suburban lottery players tend to buy instant scratch-off tickets, those in poor urban centers tend to play online daily numbers games.

    Lottery officials figure it traces back to the roots of the game.

   Illegal numbers games were the precursor to the lottery, so it makes sense that communities where illegal numbers were popular continue showing an interest in the online games offered by the state, speculated Lottery Director Gordon Medenica.

   Whatever the historical reason, the reality is that instant scratch-off games return more money in the New York State Lottery than do online games.

   Between 60 and 75 percent of the money spent on individual scratch-off games is, by law, returned to players as prize money while the amount returned in most online numbers games is 50 percent. One online game, Lotto, returns just 40 percent.

   Lottery officials say they know poor, generally minority neighborhoods tend to play more daily online games than buy scratch-off tickets, so therefore generally win less.

   But, state officials said, that's not something they control.

   "We are not telling people what to play," Medenica said. "We're agnostic as to what games
people play.

   Tell us what you think.

   Should the state even out the odds for the instant and online games?

   … Patrick Lakamp
     Susan Schulman

Marshawn Lynch case finally nearing a resolution

   The Marshawn Lynch case, one of the area's most public misdemeanor cases ever, is nearing its conclusion.

   We now know that Lynch was driving his vehicle when it struck a woman on May 31. We know that he's expected to plead guilty to a lesser charge next week. And we know he's probably not going to jail.

   We won't know all the details until late next week.

   But from what we know, do you think justice is being served?

  -- Gene Warner

Less pomp for eighth-grade graduates

   In an effort to rivet attention on the need to graduate from high school, Buffalo Public School officials are replacing traditional eighth-grade graduation ceremonies with less formal moving-up days or promotion ceremonies.

   Students will not wear caps and gowns. They may receive certificates, but not formal diplomas.

   The idea is to drive home the point that completing eighth grade is simply a steppingstone to high school and college, and not an end in itself.

   "It's our belief that there is one graduation, and that's at the end of 12th grade," said Mark Frazier, the district's lead community superintendent.

   School officials describe the new policy as part of larger improvement strategy that includes ending social promotion, providing more challenging course work and revamping special education.

   Opponents of new approach say it's possible -- and desirable -- to make clear the importance of high school and still provide eighth-graders with traditional and memorable graduation ceremonies. Eliminating diplomas and caps and gowns, they say, is counterproductive and an overreaction.

   In fact, they say, a traditional graduation can inspire students to feel important, work hard and follow their dreams.

   Are school officials on the right track, or are the critics right?


  -- Peter Simon

The mayor reacts to the rumor mill

   The rumors began swirling around City Hall Monday. There were rumblings that Mayor Byron W. Brown might be a target of some type of federal probe, and that he was thinking about resigning.

   From the start, administration officials firmly denied the whispers. But by Thursday morning, the rumors were rampant. There was water cooler chatter all over the building -- and beyond -- that Brown would quit as mayor within a week. When a Buffalo News reporter asked Brown about the rumors, he said they had "zero percent" accuracy.

   But by late in the day, numerous media organizations had contacted Brown's communications chief. Peter K. Cutler said the mayor decided to issue a written statement dismissing the rumors. Brown branded them "politically motivated."

   Local law enforcement officials said if Brown is the focus of a probe, it is not being conducted by the Buffalo FBI office or the U.S. Attorney's office in Buffalo. They added that if such an investigation was being conducted by agents in another city, it would be unusual for investigators not to notify officials in the local FBI or U.S. Attorney's office.

   The Buffalo News does not print unsubstantiated rumors. But when the mayor took the rare step of issuing a statement dealing with rumors, the newspaper decided to address them.

   What do you think? Is the mayor the target of some politically-fueled smear campaign? Did he do the wise thing in addressing the rumors by issuing a statement? Or did his actions only fuel the rumor mill?

  -- Brian Meyer

A return to form for Hoyt Lake

   Pollution in the 1950s helped put an end to most recreational boating activities at Hoyt Lake.

   The city's parks scandal 20 years ago and other issues all but scuttled ice skating from the picturesque lake's Currier & Ives vista.

   But both activities are poised to return in a big way -- a nod to the grand vision of Delaware Park's  celebrated architect, Frederick Law Olmsted.

   These are among other improvements making the lake user friendly, including plans to restore the casino boathouse, repairs to the flood-damaged lower level of the casino and even vendors selling goodies, including gelato.

  -- Mark Sommer


Wise words from a grieving son

   WASHINGTON -- After ambling to the podium with his father's gait, Luke Russert made so many feel so much better.

   Five days after Tim Russert died, his 22-year-old son did his father proud Wednesday in a eulogy at a memorial service at the Kennedy Center. Speaking to a crowd of 2,000 that included former President Bill Clinton and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and everyone who's anyone (or used to be) in the nation's press corps, Luke honored his father with words warm and wise.

   Filling a glass with water, he said: "When I hold this up, some of you see a glass half-empty, and some of you see a glass half-full. For Tim Russert, his glass was always half-full.

   "In my 22 years, I have never met anybody filled with so much optimism, who not only loved the good parts of life, but also its challenges. The ability of the human spirit to withstand tragedy always interested my father. And he firmly believed that, with faith, friends, and a little folly, anybody could withstand anything.

   "Well, that philosophy has certainly been put to the test this past week, but I believe that it is working," he concluded.

  -- Jerry Zremski

The tour without Tiger

55143055_3 In the short term, Tiger Woods' decision to have season-ending reconstructive surgery on his left knee will suck the life out of the British Open, PGA Championship and the Ryder Cup this year. Without Tiger in the field, those events become the Greater Greensboro Open. True golf aficionados will still watch on television, but the casual fan will tune out more quickly than a husband who's asked to look at fabric swatches for new drapes.

Television ratings will take a major hit. Woods' 19-hole U.S. Open playoff victory over Rocco Mediate got the best TV ratings for Monday golf in 30 years.

In the long term, some medical experts are concerned about the durability of Woods' knee. A New York orthopedic surgeon told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel that the descriptions of Woods' ailments didn't quite add up. Dr. Ronald Grelsamer speculated that Woods may have further damage to his knee than he is revealing.

Woods' swing coach, Hank Haney, said Wednesday that Woods should have been on crutches the week leading to the U.S. Open. Haney told the Associated Press that he was with Woods when doctors told him the stress fracture required three weeks on crutches and three weeks of rest.

"Tiger looked at the doctor and said, 'I''m playing in the U.S. Open, and I'm going to win.' And then he started putting on his shoes,'" Haney told AP. "He looked at me and said, 'Come on, Hank. We'll just putt today.'"

The Open was Woods' 14th major championship, leaving him four shy of tying Jack Nicklaus' record. Some golf pundits are asking: Did Woods put his long-term career at too much risk in order to win major No. 14?

Greg Connors

Tim Russert's passing raises question: Could this happen to me?

   It's one of those fears that lurks in the dark corners of the minds of many, only to be forced to the forefront by tragic events.

   But when Tim Russert died unexpectedly last week, that fear … of dying a sudden death at too young an age … became real and palpable and omnipresent.

   No doubt about it: Russert's death was traumatic for Buffalo and official Washington and for everyone who knew him. But it also touched plenty of people who didn't know what a great man he was, but who were left wondering: Could this happen to me?

   Of course it could.

   I wrote Russert's obituary three days after coming within a foot of getting hit by a speeding car that had run a red light, seven months after the sudden inexplicable death of a friend's wife, and four days before discovering that about 400 Americans under the age of 65 die of heart disease every day.

   Of course, death is often as mysterious as life, but there are things we know.

   We know we can vastly increase our odds of developing heart disease by smoking, eating poorly and refusing to exercise.

   But look around you. How many people do you know who seem to be tempting the fates?

   The question is: why?

  -- Jerry Zremski

Rethinking the Broadway Market

   The Broadway Market is celebrating its 120th anniversary this year, making it one of the oldest continually operating markets in the country.

   But some community and government leaders are worried the East Side landmark could face extinction if big changes aren't made soon. They point to sluggish sales throughout most of the year, the lowest occupancy rate in at least eight years, and the recent loss of two major tenants.

   Common Council President David A. Franczyk, who represents the Fillmore District, insists the market is in dire need of a "radical reimagining." Attracting hoards of shoppers only during the Easter season can't keep the market afloat, Franczyk argues. He and some community activists are clamoring for new leadership and a revamped marketing plan.

   They note that a five-year lease between the city and the Broadway Market is up in two weeks, and they think its expiration is a perfect chance to begin reinventing one of Buffalo's most renowned retail centers.

   How do you think the Broadway Market can be revitalized? What changes would you like to see? Can this sprawling East Side landmark be transformed into a year-round magnet for shoppers?

   --- Brian Meyer

An inquisitor with the common touch

   Tim Russert was just a face on the television to me back in 1996, when I gave my elderly mother the thrill of her life by bringing her to the White House for a Christmas party.

   It was there that I met Russert, and it was there that I came to know him.

   A few minutes after arriving, I told my mother to wait for a moment while I went to get us some wine. That left this daughter of a coal miner and widow of a tannery worker standing awkwardly alone in the middle of an ornate White House parlor … and that was obviously too much for Tim Russert to take.

   I saw him quickly work his way out of another conversation and rush over to my mother and extend his hand. By the time I returned with my wine and introduced myself, my mother and Tim Russert were chatting like old friends.

   And the next time I saw Russert, at a party three months later, his first words to me were: "How's your mother?"

   The world knows Tim Russert through questions much tougher than that one, but to me, that question he asked me, and the act of kindness he showed us months earlier, told me everything I ever needed to know about him.

   Russert died suddenly on Friday, leaving all of official Washington in shock and deep mourning, and leaving me struggling for words, with a lump in my throat, as I wrote his obituary.

   It goes without saying that American journalism and American politics won't be the same without him. But it must be said that the lives of countless people, whom he touched with his infinite kindness, won't be the same, either.

  … Jerry Zremski

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