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Do Lottos Really Benefit Education?

Topics: Lifestyle & Culture | Add A CommentBy admin | December 19, 2010

Or are they just a “tax on the stupid”, as they’re often cynically referred to?

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A couple of things got me thinking recently about the concept of legalized state lottos that operate with the public assumption that they fund education. The first was that I fell into a rather amusing obsessive-compulsive trap a little over a year ago. My mother – bless her soul, she passed away this year – suggested we pick a few lotto numbers and play them regularly. It was a little moment of fun once a week, checking to see if we were multimillionaires, and we even had a couple of $150.00 winners. But now I’m left with a sick compulsion – and I’ve talked to a few other people that do the same – to keep playing the numbers, because I’m DEAD POSITIVE that the day that I don’t play is the day that the numbers will be the multimillion dollar winners. I mean I’ve “invested” around three hundred dollars in that year and a half, so I’m at about break-even, right? No harm going on, correct? And so goes the thinking of a potential gambling addict. The other thing that got me pondering these state lottos was observing the demographic that seems to support the system. I’m doing work on location with a client who owns several lotto/liquor stores, and couldn’t help noticing that the vast majority of lotto customers seemed to be lower income, and non-white. This is obviously a local and anecdotal observation, and as you might imagine, there are very few large-scale scientific surveys to reference. However, surveys like this one from Georgia (2.6MB PDF) and this one from Texas (221KB PDF) make it clear that although the percentage of each racial demographic that has at some time played is almost the same, the high-frequency players who spend the largest percentage of their income are in fact black, in the lowest income bracket, and have the lowest “educational attainment”, in this case a high school degree or less. Well, perhaps the government knowingly supporting the gambling fixations of the hardworking poor is acceptable. In a free market economy, it’s “buyer beware”, right? Besides, it’s all for a good cause. We’re supporting education, remember? Well, not so much, as it turns out. This Illinois School Board brochure (180KB PDF) points out that lotto revenue provides less than .03% of total funding for schools in Illinois, and as this NBC News affiliate article points out, many states take money away from education to match the lotto revenue. And in the case of Michigan, which boasts in press releases about the efficiency of their lotto commission, the former governor shuffled $208 million of the school money into the general budget to reduce the state’s deficit figures this past fall. Well, at least once in awhile some poor cuss will win and live the good life right? Well, someone has to win, but one of the commonly used examples of how absurdly unlikely that it will be you is that if you spent a million dollars a year on tickets, it would be 146 years before you’d be sure to win. And when people do win, it often doesn’t turn out so well.
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