Lottery only serves to benefit rich

Mark Hammontree

Alabama needs money. A whole lot of money. As the fiscal due date on Alabama’s bills approaches, the state finds itself well over $260 million dollars short of the funds necessary to keep our budget balanced.

That’s super bad because it’s actually constitutionally illegal for the state to carry a deficit. So, yeah, Alabama needs money. And we need to figure out soon just where we’re going to get it from.

As the Governor and the House have each proposed their own tax increases and budget cuts, the Senate is discussing a constitutional amendment establishing a state lottery and allowing for Class III casino-style gambling at the state’s four greyhound tracks.

Now, I have mixed feelings about gambling and about lotteries. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t buy a Powerball or Mega Millions ticket just about every time I find myself in Georgia. And I find the idea of playing blackjack or poker in a casino in Las Vegas a pretty
 exciting notion.

I even used to buy into the pro-lottery arguments of education funding and blah, blah, blah. But now I’ve learned that lotteries or casino-style gambling would hardly be a good thing for Alabama, much less the right way to dig ourselves out of a quarter of a billion 
dollar deficit.

While proponents of the amendment argue that Alabama would see revenues upwards of $300 million from a lottery, with an additional $64-74 million in casino revenue from the four racetracks, what they don’t tell you is most of the revenue will likely come from Alabama’s poorest residents.

Studies have consistently documented the regressive nature of lottery-produced revenue. While it is easy to make the excuse that lotteries and gambling are voluntary, studies on the psychological and social effects of lotteries suggest that low-income citizens are much more likely to buy tickets as they see the lottery as a way of finding wealth in an arena with an even playing field.

In other words, lotteries become a shiny, well-marketed embodiment of the American Dream with the promise that anyone can get rich, and you have the same shot whether you’re poor or rich, white or a minority.

This fantasy is marketed to those most susceptible to dreams of wealth: those who have little money and few prospects for making a fortune the 
“traditional” way.

Casinos, particularly in states like Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama, operate in much the same way. It shouldn’t be overlooked that two of the racetracks set to offer casino gambling in the proposed amendment are located in two of Alabama’s poorest counties, Macon County and Greene County.

I realize that taxes are considered one of the four horses of the apocalypse here in Alabama, but the truth is, these regressive forms of revenue like lotteries and gambling will only further the socioeconomic divides already crippling 
our state.

There’s the easy thing to do, and there’s the right thing to do. Creating a lottery to fund the government on the hopeful dollars of the poor may be easy, but it sure isn’t right.

Mark Hammontree is a senior majoring in secondary education – language arts. His column 
runs biweekly.