A Losing Proposition

Voters should take a close look at the state lottery before they renew it.

By Emil Franzi

THE STATE LOTTERY falls under the state's sunset laws, which means we, the voters, get to review--and decide whether to kill--the program. Placing this item on the upcoming ballot was one of the better things the Legislature did this year, because it gives the voters a chance to review the narrow decision they made in 1980 creating the lottery in the first place.

The publicity pamphlet is filled with arguments from the health and environmental communities (who have passed other initiatives to get a piece of the ever-dwindling lottery pie) urging voters to keep the lottery. Some beat up the Legislature for not coughing up and using the money for the general fund.

The opponents--those who wish to kill the lottery--are mostly conservatives and conservative pols who generally oppose legalized gaming in any form. They're joined by a number of people who point out the evils to our society that have occurred in the last 20 years by the expansion of legalized gambling in all its forms.

Currents And then there's the total hypocrisy of the government simultaneously paying advertising agencies to run a series of TV spots against some addictions, like booze and tobacco, while promoting another with crap like, "If you don't play, you can't win!"

But even if you do play, you're not all that likely to win, at least not the millions that TV ads promise. In fact, you're about as likely to be struck by lightning--a fact which gets glossed over in those marketing campaigns. Still, the lure of easy money is a powerfuly force for people on the low end of the socio-economic scale, which makes the lottery an extraordinarily regressive tax, albeit a voluntary one.

Those who voted for the lottery originally were never told it would create a new and massive government bureaucracy--there's a whole damn building in Phoenix to house lottery bureaucrats. We were also told that selling lottery tickets would be a boon to mom-and-pop businesses, many of which have since been wiped out by the big chains now selling most of the lottery tickets. Nor were voters told that periodic raids would be made upon the money, which we were assured would be used for basic services like roads, by a series of special-interest groups who couldn't get their agendas funded by the Legislature. Some of it, like the Heritage Fund, is worthwhile. But the decision to fund it with lottery money may eventually bite those who did so on the ass, because the lottery is turning into a great big turkey.

Twenty years ago, if you wanted to gamble legally you went to the track or played bingo at the church. Then we created the lottery and the gaming dollars flowed in that direction. Since then, we've acquired about 20 Indian casinos, which have eaten a big chunk into the lottery take. Recent reports by the Auditor General also point out that the lottery is inefficient and badly managed, and in attempting to compete with casinos, they've dreamed up some new games that lost big.

As other forms of gaming expand, the lottery will continue to produce diminished revenue even as its bureaucrats spend more on gimmicks and ads. As a cash cow, its time is over. TW

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