Alabama lottery should be reconsidered

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.

  • Jeff Clark

    I don’t see why it’s not just legal in every state and if people don’t want to/believe in playing the lottery then they don’t have to. This weekend’s Mega Millions saw millions of people queueing to buy tickets and surely that money has gone on to benefit education and other lottery funding.

  • Jason Yeager

    I just wanted to applaud this article. I have been saying that Alabama needed a lottery since Don Siegelman was governor and made his attempt to legalize it in Alabama. However, the problem is the bible-belt Baptists view gambling as a sin. What ever happened to the separation of church and state? Why should a particular religion impose its morals upon society? A lottery could greatly help fund the pitiful education system in this state, and in that sense, it would far outweigh any moralistic problems highlighted by the churches. However, the majority of those opposed to the lottery seem to be the elderly. That demographic group has been out of school for many many years, so they do not have the slightest idea in regard to the problems our state is facing in funding education. The funny thing is back when the vote came up on whether to legalize a lottery, many of the people I knew that said they would vote “No” were some of the same ones I would see at the Florida state line buying lottery tickets. So let’s keep the money in Alabama instead of funding the education systems in Georgia and Florida! Bring back electronic bingo and begin a lottery–that is the fastest and easiest way to create jobs and help restore our state’s broken budget.

  • MikeD11

    This article is incorrect. Arkansas passed the lottery in 2008. In September of 2009, Arkansas sold its first lottery ticket. Better journalism is needed…

  • Roman122

    Mr. Wyckoff, excellent article! 
    I myself am a practicing Christian, a baptist I might add. I find it quite interesting that people have labeled gambling as a sin. Last semester, I made it a personal goal to read the entire new Testament (this year, its the entire bible). Nowhere in the New Testament did I see gambling (even more specific, buying/selling lottery tickets) as a sin. I joined you and the many in buying a lottery ticket when I crossed the state line of my home state (Georgia). While I didn’t win, I did have fun waiting in line, talking to reporters, and meeting new people…all while hoping my $10 would turn into millions.

    To the many Christians and politicians in our state, I challenge you to reconsider your views on this issue. The way our current state budget is set-out, we have two different funds, the general fund, and the education fund. And in our economic crisis, governor Bentley really wants to tap into the resources of the education and roll them into the general fund to allow for fairer allocation of funding that doesn’t kill certain key state programs. The AEA has been lobbying to keep this from happening. How about some compromise? The AEA should allow governor Bentley to tap into the educational fund for the general budget, with the agreement that Alabama create a state lottery program with a sole-purpose of creating a new educational fund.

    And a direct challenge to Christians. I challenge you to start focusing on the most important part of your faith. Jesus died on a cross for the sins of you, me, and the world. Romans 3:23 tells us that “for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”. We all have a need for Jesus Christ in our lives because we are all sinners. If it weren’t for our sins, God would never have had to put his son up on a cross and allow him to endure pain and suffering on behalf of us all. It’s you and me that deserve to be on that cross, but God loved us enough to give his one and only son! Jesus’ death on a cross gives us new-found freedom! We are assured that no matter what we do, we have one who will speak to the father on our behalf (1 John 2:1). Yes, as Christians, we are called to live differently, but were not called to interrupt and stop every sin. We should be reaching out to people and showing them the love of Christ, not running every facet of their lives. And by no means, do we have a right to point out someone else’s sins, because we are all sinners. 

  • shawnmcarter

    As is often true, correlation does not mean causation.  Most states with lottery earnings “earmarked” for education have not used lottery money to create academic towers of excellence.  What the lottery allows those states to do is shift state funding away from education toward other state expenditures.  Florida, for example, uses the largest piece of the pie for “Bright Futures Scholarships” with less than a quarter of the earnings going to K-12 education.  In 2009, all school funding from lotteries in the Sunshine State accounted for approximately 3.1% of the state’s education fund.  

     I see no religious reason for not having a lottery.  I have a moral reason against it after watching what Florida did with their lottery for more than 25 years.  The schools that get the most from the lottery in Florida are the schools that score the highest in state assessment exams – didn’t we spend all last summer talking about the gulf between the have’s and have’s not?  The “Bright Futures Scholarships” don’t benefit the poor, they benefit the best performers.   

    A 1998 study reported in the Boston Globe indicated that the overwhelming majority of lottery purchases were made by blacks, people with less than a high school diploma, and/or earned less than $24,999 a year.  It is this style of thinking as proposed by SoRelle that allows state’s to enact these “Stupidity Taxes.”

    • James (Alex) Steadman

            But you shouldn’t say that we shouldn’t have a lottery because other states run their lotteries poorly.  We may not administer ours the same way.  At a youth legislature event, someone argued against a lottery amendment by saying, “you can’t just throw money at the problem.”  True, but we don’t have the money to throw.  No one thinks having a lottery will cure all the ills of our terrible K-12 education system (or state government).  It takes the funding and then the right policies. The lottery would help (but of course not totally cure) one of those problems.  We cannot enact sweeping reforms on our system with no money.  Of course the lottery cannot just fix everything, but it would help us amass some of the tools with which we can try to rebuild our education system. 
          Now, if you oppose the lottery because it acts as a sort of “tax on the poor,”  that is another issue, and one that I believe is the stronger complaint against the lottery.  Of course, if we administer it correctly (a big if in this state), the poor will reap some of the benefits in the form of a better education for the children.  It’s still there choice to buy the tickets, too.  People have to be personally responsible for their actions as long as they’re not being tricked.  I do not see any states forcing people to buy lottery tickets.

      • shawnmcarter

        I absolutely agree with your personal responsibility position.  On premise, I agree theoretically  it “could” be made into a good thing…but the track record of 42 other states argues against that.  Off the top of my head only Connecticut applies revenues of state lotteries to the general fund which is at least the most honest way of running the thing.  

        I simply oppose the marketing of lotteries as a panacea for educational issues in the state when it hasn’t improved much in the places it is in effect. 

      • Jeb

         Somehow I doubt the opposition to an Alabama state lottery coming from citizens of this state is concerned about disproportionately affecting the poor (not a typical Republican concern when considering the tax code) and more about religious convictions. I’ve lived in Bama for over a decade now and while there are a lot of things I like about it, we will forever be just behind Mississippi as the backwoods laughing stock of the nation if we don’t get past these kinds of religiously influenced politics. On the other hand, I support a state’s right to have their own laws and regulations… so as a compromise… can Huntsville secede and be considered an island state surrounded by Alabama?

  • Dale Linn

    You might feel like you are behind the times because every other state is up to our neck in some form of gambling, especially the State Lottery, but you might be surprised to learn that you are  one step from being the most progressive state in the union (oops! nation.)

    Other states are unable to take advantage of Prize Linked Savings because, like most addicts, they do not think they have a choice.  Every year, they steal millions of dollars from their neediest citizens and give nothing back, but every year they face budget cuts, they need even more cash, and the lottery becomes more even more institutionalized.

    Unlike predatory lotteries, otherwise known as the Stupid Tax, the Prize Linked Savings is a lottery that does not steal from the players, actually increases personal savings, and still allows for million dollar prizes.  Sound too good to be true?  It is.  In most states where the current Hunger Games Lottery Administration represents the status quo, a benevolent gaming alternative is a threat, not an opportunity.

    Dear Alabama: Read about Prize Linked Savings.  Get excited.  Lead the nation.