No. 758



In some circles, what I am going to say in this column will be about as popular and well received as a skunk at a family reunion. I want to say a few words about the downside of the lottery. This is something you don’t hear much about by the promoters, the media, state government officials and others who profit from it.
We now have 44 states in our nation that have a lottery in one form or another. My own state of Arkansas was the most recent to get on board, as the 2008 election indicated that a majority of our citizens were for it. Our voters had turned it down on at least two previous occasions, but this time they tied the fortunes of the lottery to a couple of very special words – education and kids.
Who could be against education and who could be against kids, especially when it comes to kids getting a free college education because of proceeds from the lottery? Here, let me be very clear. I am one of the 37 percent of Arkansans who voted against the lottery, have never played it and don’t ever plan to. There are two very definite reasons why this is true for me, and I will share them with you at the end of this column. A few weeks ago we had a speaker from the state lottery commission speak to our local Lions Club. One of the first things she said, even though she works for the lottery, is that she voted against it, too.
She then went on to build a pretty solid case for the lottery and why it is good for our state. If you live outside the state of Arkansas, the odds are pretty good that you also have a state lottery and, therefore, have more experience to base your feelings on. In other words, if you could do it all over again, would you vote yes or no to have it? Our speaker made it very clear that the lottery was to be viewed purely as entertainment. They also have a pretty good deal in relation to bad debts, as they only take cash (no checks or credit cards).
The lottery would not be a bad deal if we lived in a perfect world where all educated people and those who played it would buy only one or two lottery tickets each week, and that would be the extent of it. However, we know this is not the case. This is the reason we have Gamblers Anonymous -- to help those who become addicted to gambling and cannot help themselves. We have another issue where many people who play the lottery spend money they would otherwise spend on groceries, merchandise and other items where they pay sales taxes. It’s like robbing Peter to pay Paul, but the lottery money is earmarked for scholarships and the shortfall must be made up in some way, which usually means raising taxes.
While colleges and universities across the nation will continue to raise tuition -- that is the nature of progress -- the presence of scholarship lottery money makes the prospects a lot more inviting. The lottery has been proven to be the most regressive tax of all, where low-income and uneducated people bear the greatest burden of supporting it. One of the slogans the lottery people use here is “All you need is a dollar and a dream.” Really! By their own numbers, the odds of hitting the big jackpot are 174 million to one. The odds are better that a person will be struck by lightning than to be a large (millions of dollars) jackpot winner.
This is a personal choice, but here is the main reason for my opposition to the lottery. It creates a false hope for good people who could succeed at most anything, including financially, if they worked hard and used their own ingenuity and creativity.
(EDITOR'S NOTE: Jim Davidson is a public speaker and syndicated columnist. You may contact him at 2 Bentley Drive, Conway, AR 72034. To begin a bookcase literacy project visit You won’t go wrong helping a needy child.)