The latest issue of Sojourners Magazine includes an opinion piece by Phil Blackwell, entitled Not Worth the Gamble, a response to the recent ruling by the US Justice Department to permit states to sell lottery tickets online.
I have always had a problem with lotteries, with citizen governments in the business of promoting gambling. What disturbs me most is not so much the questionable morality of gambling itself or even the social ills it may exacerbate, rather the failure of state government to do its job. A state lottery is no more than an extremely regressive tax, exacting an increasingly larger share of needed revenues from those on the bottom end of the economic spectrum. As Blackwell notes:
When we follow the advertising money, we discover that the lottery has been sold primarily to the poor and those on fixed incomes: The billboards are in the inner city, not the upscale suburbs. The lottery is promoted in such places with the deceitful promise that a buyer has a good chance to win security for a lifetime.
He argues “the state government’s dependence on lottery sales is cowardly …” — and lazy! —
… a way for legislators to avoid honestly calculating the real costs of education, public services, and infrastructure repairs and then calling on citizens to be responsible through a fair tax structure.
The job of government is to ensure fairness, to encourage healthy and productive lifestyles, and to nurture opportunities for its citizens to engage in meaningful and economically viable work. Lotteries undermine every one of these purposes.