The Dallas NACCP is calling for an end to the Texas lottery, joining the Texas General Baptist Convention in opposing the lottery. Dallas NAACP President Juanita Peterson insists the lottery is targeted to low income and minority players. She cites the example of one man who died without health insurance recently after removing money from the policy in order to play the lottery.
The NAACP has a valid point. According to a 2005 University of Texas-Arlington study, people without high school diplomas spent nearly four times as much on lottery tickets than people with a graduate degree education. Blacks spent nearly three times as much as whites on the games.
This is not isolated to Texas. A study in Massachusetts found that people earning between $30,000 and $50,000 a year spent nearly 50% more on lottery tickets than those earning between $50,000 and $70,000 a year. In Arizona, those living in poorer zip codes spent five times as much on the lottery as those living in the richer zip codes in the state.
The result of who plays the lottery the most is that a disproportionate number of lotto winners live in poverty, lack a good education, and have poor money management habits. For them, receiving a check for seven to nine digits often becomes a horror story filled with a constant barrage of lawsuits, divorces, and trouble with the police.
Sixteen year old Callie Rogers won more than $3 million in 2003. By age 22, she was a bankrupt single mother who drove a junker to work. She may have gotten off easy.
Bud Post won $16 million in the Pennsylvania Lottery. He died broke, living on $450 a month from Social Security. While he still had the money, his own brother hired a hit man to kill him.
Jeffrey Dampier won $20 million in the Illinois Lottery. He was murdered by his sister-in-law.
Jack Whittaker won $314.9 million but declared himself unable to pay a judgment against him. Thieves had cleaned out his bank account. The win ruined his marriage and wrecked the life of his granddaughter, who became increasingly isolated and died of a drug overdose. His ex-wife said of the win, “I wish I would have torn the ticket up.”
The lottery exploits poor players while often doing great harm to the winners, who are unprepared for the large fortune. Libertarians deem this point irrelevant on the reasoning that adults should be free to make stupid and harmful choices. As Texan Dave Anderson declared, “If I make a certain amount, it’s up to me: Should I spend this $5 (on a ticket)? Or should I go buy a loaf of bread and hamburger to feed the kids?”
In addition, Libertarians argue an end to the lottery would hurt responsible middle class workers. For only $5, they buy the right to indulge a fantasy of quitting their job after coming into a vast amount of wealth that solves all of their problems.
Libertarians’ thoughts on gambling are most relevant regarding private gambling. With the lottery, gambling is being sponsored, encouraged, supported, and promoted by the government. There can be no effective check on a system that exploits the poor when the people who can regulate the lottery are the people who profit by it.
Alicia Hansen of the National Tax Foundation has rightly called the lotteries a regressive tax and its one that state governments would do best to do without. If we’re to have legal gambling, then have it at casinos and race tracks where it can be regulated. As it is, our state governments are sinking to the level of con men and selling false hope to suckers.