Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Might Lotto Unite NAACP and GOP?

When the Dallas chapter of the NAACP and Texas' Republican committee agree on something, officials in the Lone Star State need to take notice.

Earlier this June, at their convention in Fort Worth, Texas Republicans affirmed a resolution in their platform calling for an end to the state's lottery.  This week, by a unanimous vote of the board of the NAACP's chapter in Dallas, one of the state's most influential Democratic and minority organizations did the same thing.

Juanita Wallace, president of the NAACP's Dallas chapter, put it quite simply:  "People with very little money are spending their money on the lottery."  She added that her group has been concerned for a while about how gambling affects poor people, and whether government should encourage gambling.

Of course, gaming officials in Texas aren't about to let their cash cow go to the slaughterhouse.  One state senator who is a strong advocate of the lottery, a black Democrat from Houston, dismisses one of the claims Wallace and the Dallas NAACP made in conjunction with their request that the lottery be terminated.  Senator Rodney Ellis is satisfied that only 63% of lottery profits goes to fund public education.  Many Texans have been under the impression that the percentage would be much higher.  It was one of the vague promises gaming advocates made when Texas first voted to establish a lottery in 1991.

Another state senator from Wallace's own district in Dallas, Royce West, said he wouldn't comment until he's talked personally with her and his friends at his local NAACP chapter.  Obviously, he's not overjoyed that a group who usually marches lock-step with his own political agenda has broken ranks and pointed out the obvious fallacy behind lotteries:

They really are a poor man's tax.

Dollar by dollar, playing the lotto won't put anybody in the poorhouse.  But no lotto can survive if its players spend just a dollar a week for the fun of it.  And what about the morality of gambling in general?  Spending money on a system rigged against you just for the opportunity to defy the odds and receive a windfall you haven't earned?  I have an idea:  that dollar you're thinking of spending to purchase a lottery ticket?  Please mail it to me instead.  The same reason you'd balk at sending me a dollar for no reason is pretty much the same reason you shouldn't be buying a lotto ticket, either.

Technically, the Texas Lottery Commission is already on the chopping block.  The state's Sunset Advisory Commission has a list of agencies whose fate will be decided in 2013, and it can decide whether to recommend that the lottery be allowed to continue, or whether its charter should be terminated.  That decision then gets forwarded to the Texas legislature, which will rule on accepting or rejecting the ruling of the Sunset commission.

Considering the dire straits Texas public education funding is in, nobody's thinking getting rid of the lottery is going to be a slam-dunk.  Currently, partly because the lottery gives such a low percentage of earnings to the state's school districts, that amount is roughly $1 billion per year.  The state spends about $54 billion on public education each year, and could spend more if enough taxpayers wanted it to.  Finding additional ways to make up 1/54th of its funding - less than 2% - if the lottery was eliminated wouldn't be difficult.  But it probably wouldn't be politically-expedient for many elected officials, both liberal blacks who don't agree with people like Juanita Wallace, and even conservatives who've quietly been welcoming campaign funds from the gaming industry.

Still, the fact that voters as diverse as Texas's Republican caucus and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People are on the same page when it comes to the lottery isn't insignificant.  Having these two organizations agree that the amount of money the lottery contributes to public education isn't worth its social costs should be a game-changer in the lotto debate.

Does that mean that Texas' Sunset Advisory Commission and the state's legislature will do the right thing and terminate the lottery?  Not by a long shot.  Texas politics isn't known for its logic and bipartisanship.

But again, these are two significant players in the state that could provide a decisive block of influence were they to join forces and work together on this shared objective.  Granted, so far, it's just the Dallas chapter of the NAACP that has taken a bold stance against the lottery, but Dallas is no political backwater in Texas.

I'm not known for my optimism.  But maybe I'm bipolar enough to think that the NAACP and Texas Republicans can together take down Texas' poor man's tax.  After all, people not taking advantage of these types of opportunities is one reason I'm not known for my optimism!  Still, I can hope.

Getting rid of the lottery might be a risky joint venture for two groups that generally don't work together well.  But it's a gamble in which, if it worked out, we'd all be winners.  Remember, you can't win if you don't play.

And sometimes, having everybody win is a good thing!

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