A hush hits the saloon when the fastest draw comes in

No, it's not the Wild West but Manhattan, where a new lottery has left New Yorkers speechless. Daniel Jeffreys reports
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Christo's on Lexington Avenue is a classic New York steak house, the kind of place where people used to come and talk. But now parties suddenly break from their tables to sit at the bar, transfixed by a TV screen with 10 rows of eight numbers.

While their T-bones go cold, customers toss dollars on the counter and back comes a small card. As the numbers on the screen change, conversation is not encouraged. Money is at stake, something New Yorkers take very seriously.

These distracted diners are playing Quick Draw, a new game of chance in which players can win cash prizes across the bar of up to $600 (pounds 400). Quick Draw is sweeping New York because it is fast and frenzied, just like the city. Every five minutes, a central computer selects 20 numbers at random from the 80 on the screen. The chosen figures are then flashed to TV screens in bars throughout New York State. The punters select 10 numbers and bet up to $10 per game. If they bet $1 and all 10 of their numbers come up, they can win $100,000 - although that payout would come by cheque from lottery headquarters; the barman would not be expected to have that amount in change. No less a moral authority than Donald Trump has compared the game's addictive power to crack-cocaine.

"It is compulsive, I find it hard to stop," says Andy, a sales executive at a record company who has just lost 30 bucks. On the next stool is his mate Paul, who works at an advertising agency. They have dates, who have been left at the table. After every game, Andy casts a guilty glance at his girlfriend: "She gets really pissed off if we stay up here too long." As Andy bets another $5, Paul admits they have been playing for more than 30 minutes. Both say they often come in and play at lunchtime.

Quick Draw can make instant millionaires. If a player bets $10 on a card and all 10 of his numbers come up, that is a million dollars right there. The odds of this happening are about 8.5 million to one, so millionaires are rare, losers common.

The game is so close in character to a slot machine that there is really no difference. Which is why Mr Trump feels sore. Quick Draw is gambling, and that is not supposed to be legal in New York City. For gambling, New Yorkers should hop on a complimentary Trump coach and travel down to a Trump casino in Atlantic City.

New York State officials say Quick Draw is just another type of lottery, which is legal. New York has a lottery draw every other day, but that lacks the immediacy of Quick Draw. If players sit down at 6pm, they can try for a million dollars 72 times before midnight. Officials in the office of George Pataki, the New York Governor, say the game will bring $180m a year to the cash-strapped state.

For all that, opposition to the game was widespread among local politicians. Pataki could get the game approved only by burying the proposal deep in a budget bill that included tax cuts. Republicans who wanted to oppose Quick Draw would have been voting against tax cuts as well.

"If we'd taken Quick Draw on its own, it would never have become legal," says the Republican Senator Frank Padavan of Queens. "You cannot mix drink and alcohol without causing problems. People shouldn't drink and drive, they shouldn't gamble and drive. This new game will make a lot of money because New Yorkers never do things by halves, but it will also cause plenty of grief."

The Blarney Stone on Manhattan's Ninth Avenue was one of the first bars with Quick Draw. By November there will be 2,000 Quick Draw venues in the city and more across the state. Toni is the bar manager at the Blarney, and she has just ordered two more TV screens so the game can be seen throughout the bar. "We get a mixed group in here. Construction crews and folk from the film studios. Quick Draw has made the two sets talk like they never did before," she says.

"On Thursday things get crazy in here. That's pay day and we get more than 200 in here by six in the evening. That crowd bets like crazy and I've seen whole pay packets go down, plus any money a losing man can borrow."

"That's the risk; the state needs the money but it's a regressive tax," says the State Supreme Judge Louis York, who is studying the legality of Quick Draw. "Low-income people will pay this game and lose more than they can afford."

"People used to come here and drink, now they just play the game," says Toni. "Our beer sales are actually down since we started Quick Draw. People just stand and stare at the screen with empty glasses in their hand."

Across New York it is the same problem. Bars where conversation once flowed have become obsessed with the game. Film guys and builders may now be talking, but it is not about Bunuel - the chat is all about numbers. For that reason, some New Yorkers have stood proud against the trend. "I think it demeans my restaurant and bar," says Don Berger, owner of River Run on Broadway. He has just become one of the owners to close down his Quick Draw screens. "It smacks of Atlantic City and Donald Trump and we don't want that."

A few more Don Bergers would make Mr Trump happy, but he should not hold his breath. After leaving the almost empty River Run, the door opened at a bar nearby. An inviting noise spilled into the chilly night. I stepped inside the throng and all eyes were turned to six screens above the bar. I listened to the guy in front of me place his order and followed his lead. "Give me a Becks and a Quick Draw, please."

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