On Tuesday of this week, Rep. Chip Brown introduced two “lottery only” bills in the Alabama House of Representatives — House Bill 501 (HB501) and House Bill 502 (HB502). HB502 is the “enabling legislation” that details how the state-sponsored lottery would be organized, but HB501 is the primary bill that calls for a state-wide constitutional amendment legalizing the state government to prey on its own citizens. The bills are being co-sponsored by the following House members: Rhett Marques, Jeff Sorrells, Shane Stringer, Gil Isbell, Joe Faust, Ed Oliver, Margie Wilcox, Scott Stadthagen, Debbie Wood, Craig Lipscomb, Steve Hurst, and Parker Moore.
We’ve also been told that Speaker of the House, Rep. Mac McCutcheon, and Majority Leader, Rep. Nathaniel Ledbetter, are endorsing the bills and are “fast-tracking” them in an attempt to get them passed before the end of the 2022 Regular Session of the Alabama Legislature. They passed House Tourism Committee Thursday morning. Alabama Citizens Action Program (ALCAP) spoke against the passage of these harmful bills.
HB501, if passed by both Houses, would call for a vote of the citizens of Alabama to change the Alabama Constitution in order to allow the State to operate a lottery. The revenue it generates would be divided between education, scholarships, administrative costs, and providing help for problem and addicted gamblers. (Note the irony of the last one! They are proposing a bill that would allow the State to substantially increase the number of addicted gamblers! Yes, there are already addicted gamblers in Alabama, but the number is relatively low compared to states that already have a state-sponsored lottery. They added this line item to the bill because they recognize that addictive gamblers will become a major problem.)
Well, why does ALCAP oppose and why should Christians be opposed to the lottery? There are a number of reasons, but here are the “Top Ten Reasons To Oppose A State-Sponsored Lottery” (Most of this was taken from the Stop Predatory Gambling website):
1) In 1969, New Jersey Congressman Cornelius Gallagher wrote that if the Garden State enacted a lottery “we could abandon all taxation in New Jersey and increase every service in our state four times over.” Today, New Jersey has a state lottery, several casinos, online casino gambling, and commercialized sports betting. Yet the state is in the worst fiscal condition of any U.S. state, ranking 48th in the nation in George Mason University Mercatus Center’s report on the fiscal condition of states. New Jersey exemplifies how government-sanctioned gambling has been a spectacular failure as a revenue source. It’s proven to be the biggest budget gimmick and the calling card of anti-reform politicians across the U.S.
Yet gambling lobbyists and some public officials continue to tout government-sanctioned gambling as a way to raise tax revenue. But history has shown repeatedly that this argument is either overstated or wrong. According to the Rockefeller Institute of Government at State University of New York-Albany, the organization doing the best independent research on public revenues from gambling, states creating new revenue streams from gambling may see momentary bumps in tax income but “in the long-run, the growth in state revenues from gambling activities slows or even reverses and declines.”
That’s because income from government-sanctioned gambling does not grow over time like general tax revenue and expenditures on education and other programs. These will grow more rapidly than gambling revenue. As a result, new gambling operations that are intended to pay for normal increases in state spending add to, rather than ease, long-term budget imbalances.
2) Many states tout lotteries as a way “to improve education” yet these states have not seen significant improvement in their education rankings over the last two decades.
3) Beyond its obvious status as a budgetary shell game, government-sanctioned gambling incurs major social costs that end up being footed by all taxpayers. In addition to targeting and exploiting the financially desperate and cultivating addiction, government-sanctioned gambling leads to increases in rates of personal bankruptcy and provides new avenues for crime and money laundering. Gambling operators don’t pay for the harms they cause families, businesses, and communities; taxpayers do. Lower-income Americans lose money on gambling, get it back by relying on more financial help from their government, which then gets it from taxpayers.
4) Also troubling for taxpayers, gambling operators are not allowed to fail by the state. When casinos come up short, states usually provide new infusions of money, reduced taxes, reduced funding for gambling addiction measures, or other concessions such as lifting smoking bans and loss limits, in order to sustain revenues and profitability. Rhode Island, Delaware, and New Jersey have all taken special steps to help casinos that might otherwise fail. Public tax dollars too often prop up gambling operators. As for state-sponsored lotteries, the Arkansas Legislature had to add a line item to their general budget a few years ago to cover the promised scholarship money because their state-sponsored lottery was not generating the income they had promised. Last year, the Arkansas legislature gave the Academic Challenge Scholarship $25 million. That’s a fairly typical amount.
5) All the citizens who don’t gamble also pay another way: government-sanctioned gambling lowers our national standard of living because it’s a sterile transfer of money from millions of ordinary people’s pockets into a small number of other people’s pockets, producing nothing new and nothing of lasting value. Its economic impact is similar to throwing your money on the street so someone else can pick it up – it redistributes wealth without creating it. Because this nonproductive activity nevertheless uses up time and resources, we experience a reduced national standard of living, a consequence that impacts all of us.
6) The way we raise money to pay for our government says as much about our society's principles and values as the way we spend it. According to an interview in the video, “Out of Luck: Where Does the Lottery Money Go?” a state-sponsored lottery is when "the state plays its own citizens as suckers."
7) The majority of people who play the lottery are receiving government subsidies, so those of us who don’t play, are paying for those who do play by using our tax dollars.
8) The New York Times reported that state lotteries extract between 70%-80% of their profits from just 10% of the players.
9) State-sponsored lotteries steadily increase the odds in order to bring in higher jackpots. They advertise ever-increasing jackpots, but they fail to mention that the odds against winning are substantially increased, as well.
10) “No taxation without representation” was one of America’s founding principles. After 45 years of state governments using lotteries and regional casinos to exploit and defraud their own citizens to extract as much money as possible, the time has come to add the principle of “no taxation by exploitation” beneath it
Dr. Joe Godfrey is President and CEO of ALCAP (Alabama Citizens Action Program), which represents churches from all across Alabama to the Alabama State Legislature. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to Commentary@1819News.com