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Why a Lottery is a Bad Bet for Alabama

By Bill Armistead
Alabama Political Reporter

If something appears too good to be true, it usually is. A good example is the promise from Governor Robert Bentley that a lottery will provide much needed state funds to cure the state’s budget shortfall. He is so convinced of this he has called a special session of the legislature which began Monday to try to push his gambling agenda.

It is a sad commentary on the leadership of our state when they resort to funding state government on the backs of those who can least afford it. We should be doing all that we can to help the less fortunate who have trouble putting bread on the table. The last thing we need to do is cause them to take bread off the table.

State lotteries are nothing more than a hidden tax on the poor and they are more likely to become addicted to gambling than those in a higher income bracket. Studies have shown that those addicted to gambling spend about 9 percent of their take-home income from households making less than $13,000 a year.

Consider these facts from a study done by Georgia State University: one-half of addicted gamblers commit crimes in order to support their addiction; more than 20 percent of compulsive gamblers end up filing for bankruptcy because of gambling losses; the divorce rate for problem gamblers is twice the rate of non-gamblers; and 1 in 5 addicted gamblers attempt suicide – 20 times the rate of non-gamblers.

Studies have shown that when a state establishes a lottery, excitement typically builds and consumers rush to buy tickets and as the games mature, sales level off. A recent study revealed that 27 states saw declines in lottery revenues in 2015. So, why do we want to get on that bandwagon and promise that we have solved a problem when we have just created more than we have solved.

When selling the public on the ideal of a lottery, proponents always provide a high estimate of the amount of money that will be raised for the state treasury. Governor Bentley says that he expects a lottery to bring in $250 to $300 million. But, that is nothing but pie in the sky.

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Ask the people in Oklahoma how that worked out for them. Their state leaders promised that the lottery would bring in $150 million a year for education. The opponents of the lottery, looking at the experience of other states, argued that they would be lucky if it brought in half that amount. The lottery, in fact, has never brought in even half that much. And, after reaching a peak of a little more than $70 million a year it has continued to decline.

When other states have fallen short of their forecast revenues from a lottery they panic and resort to heavy advertising to pump up ticket sales. Of course, the cost of promoting the lottery comes from taxpayer’s hard earned money. Think of it! The state will be trying to trick its citizens into wagering a bet that most will lose.

The Wall Street Journal reports that if you purchase one lottery ticket to the Powerball jackpot your chances of winning are one in 292 million. 1 in 292,000,000!! How can any of our leaders keep a straight face knowing the odds of winning a jackpot are next to nil?

When the legislature convenes Monday the lawmakers need to say no to the lottery and do what most Alabamians want them to do: reform government, squeeze every nickel of waste out they can, eliminate duplications and redundancies, then reprioritize the money coming in to fund everything that is essential and not one thing that isn’t.

Governor Bentley says they have cut all that they can cut, but having served in the Alabama Senate for 8 years and also served 5 years as the Chief Economic Advisor to the Governor in the 1990’s, I can tell you there is much more that can be cut without seriously jeopardizing the welfare of our citizens.

So, why do we want to get on that bandwagon and promise our people that we are solving a problem, when in fact all we are doing is creating several more problems that will be worse than the ones we already have?

(Bill Armistead is the immediate past Chairman of the Alabama Republican Party, former State Senator and Chief Economic Advisor to Governor Guy Hunt. His email address is [email protected])

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Bill Armistead
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