04/11/05 — A poor legacy: State House says yes to gambling scheme

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A poor legacy: State House says yes to gambling scheme

“This is big — big, big, big, big,” crowed a deliriously happy Kevin Howell.

What tickled him so was the narrow vote in the state House of Representatives in favor of a state lottery in North Carolina.

Howell is a lobbyist for Gov. Mike Easley, who has made the establishment of a lottery a paramount goal of his administration.

Now it appears that he will be successful.

The state Senate has voted for a lottery in three earlier legislative terms and is almost certain to do so this term.

The lottery will be a sorry legacy for Easley.

He and other proponents say it is needed to raise money for education. In fact, however, in the states with “education lotteries,” nary a one has seen a steady increase in education funding.

In the House version of the lottery law, half of the proceeds will go for school construction, an obligation heretofore resting with the counties.

A fourth of the profits will fund college scholarships, and a fourth will go into a new fund for educational purposes. So only a small portion will supplement that part of the state budget now set aside for education.

And even the new money that goes for ordinary education expenditures likely will replace, rather than augment, regular appropriations.

So much for numbers. Even if they favored the lottery, they are not the most important grounds for opposing it. Mostly, it is a moral issue.

Advocates claim the profits will benefit children. In truth, a lottery would do them more harm than good. While in our classrooms we teach them character education, we will build the classrooms with the profits from a state-run numbers game.

As a matter of state policy, the scheme is immoral, which is why the state forbids anyone else from operating a lottery.

A person should be allowed to gamble if he chooses to risk his money. But in every state where there is a lottery, the poor participate by a far greater ratio than people who can afford it.

What it amounts to is a tax, a volunteer tax, yes, but the most regressive tax that we will have. The state will lure people into it by dangling the hope of getting rich easily, although the chance of an individual cashing in on a big pot is almost nil.

The vote in the House of Representatives was, as Kevin Howell said, big, big, big, big. It was a big, big, big, big mistake.

Published in Editorials on April 11, 2005 11:30 AM