I bought my first lottery ticket on my eighteenth birthday, and I bought my second one this weekend. On my birthday, it was a purely symbolic purchase. I bought it alongside a Swisher Sweets cigar (classy, yes) to acknowledge my new legal status as an “adult.”
This weekend, I bought a lottery ticket for the same reason CNN’s Brooke Baldwin did: Why wouldn’t you? This weekend’s record-setting mega-million cash stash was on the news, night shows and social media; and with all this coverage, how could you ignore the possibilities $656 million could provide? If nothing else, I could say I participated in something record-breaking.
By chance, I was in my home state of Texas this weekend. Texas is a state, like most, where the lottery is legal. So, the combination of hope and situation led me to the 7-Eleven.
I went in prepared, expecting the owner of an empty store to notice my naiveté in purchasing a lottery ticket. But, I was not alone. The cash register lines were filled with other people buying $1 tickets, just like myself. There were policemen, construction workers and a guy in a tie waiting in line, too. Leaving the store, I could not help but feel a little bit of hope trickle down my throat alongside my Horchata.
But if I were on the University of Alabama campus this weekend, I would have been in one of eight states where the lottery is illegal. Alabama joins the company of Alaska, Hawaii, Nevada, Mississippi, Wyoming, Arkansas and Utah on the short list.
For each of these states, the reason behind the lack of lottery is situational. Alaska and Hawaii have little need for it. Their education does not need it to thrive.
Nevada and Mississippi casino businesses are threatened by the lottery. Gambling is their domain, and the lottery makes gambling more accessible and cheaper. Policy makers and casino owners are friendly, and you know the rest.
Wyoming and Arkansas are working towards it; both states have expressed openness to the bill. The opposition’s argument is based on logistical reasons.
Which leaves Alabama and Utah. Two states that, demographically, do not mirror each other but do when it comes to the priority of religion. And both the Utah and Alabama governments have strong ties to religion. In both Mormonism and many sects of Christianity, gambling is a sin. And in these states, the argument of “sin” holds strong weight.
The lottery has been charged with creating “pathological gamblers,” addicting people to gambling, leading to crime and poverty. Some say the advertising is targeted at low-income individuals who are more likely to buy a ticket, because of the hope of immediate economical freedom. And the stipulation continues: These low-income families must be spending their money for food on lottery tickets, right?
I see little difference between cigarette companies creating “addicted smokers” who waste $5 a pack per week (or gasp, more!). Or even worse, the “alcoholics” beer companies have created, who must have poor family values if they are spending their money on beer instead of bread.
Those connections seem a little far-fetched, based on a lot of assumptions about the moral character of lottery-ticket purchases, low-income families and humans in general (we can’t control the urge… must… gamble).
Now, here’s another connection: If you take that same short list of states that do not allow the lottery, and compare it to national rankings of state education, you find more than one repeat. Mississippi’s education system is notoriously in the bottom three, and Alabama is not much higher. Arkansas and Nevada join us on the lower end of the list (although, still not as shabby as us and our sister state.)
The profits of the lottery go into four places: The biggest chunk, about 60 cents of every dollar, go to the prize. Second, about 30 cents goes toward public education (or in some cases, the elderly). The last two pie-pieces go toward advertisements and production costs. And while 30 cents seems minor, multiply it by millions (tickets purchased).
This connection seems a little more obvious.
The argument against a system that has the potential to start to fix a serious problem in the state of Alabama comes from religious morality. And while I appreciate the religious ties and the tradition it brings to the south, the Bible Belt is still holding up the pants of the state government. To move forward, drastic changes must be made.
The weekend’s mega-millions power-ball craze was another reminder to Alabama about the potential a lottery system has for the education fund of Alabama. When it comes to something as serious as education funding, and lack thereof, religious bias should have no place near a state’s decision.
SoRelle Wyckoff is the opinions editor of The Crimson White.