Every time the Powerball or Mega Millions lotteries grow large, arguments from some in Utah start rolling in. “Why can’t Utah have a lottery? Why don’t we participate in the millions in revenue and education funding that a state lottery would bring? Everyone else is doing it, so why can’t we?”
The reasoning goes something like this: “State lotteries bring in millions of dollars in new money to things like public education, and even better, it’s money that the government gets without raising taxes. People play the lottery voluntarily and for fun, and children benefit. It’s a win-win all the way around.”
People like to play the lottery so much that $70 billion is spent on it annually. Some of that money is used to administer the lotteries. Forty billion dollars of it goes back out in prizes, $4 billion goes to the retailers that sell the tickets, and $20 billion goes to state governments. So why doesn’t Utah jump on the lottery bandwagon that 43 other states have? Let’s get our piece of that $20 billion and spend it on education, not to mention the economic impact our share of the $4 billion to retailers would have.
The answers to these questions are pretty straightforward.
Lotteries Don’t Increase Education Funding
Lotteries don’t actually generate all that much government revenue. Less than a third of ticket sales actually go to state coffers. And studies of other states’ lotteries have shown that after an initial burst of new money because of the lottery, after a few years those states’ spending on education actually decreased. Meanwhile, states without a lottery increased education spending over the same time period. Non-lottery states spent 10 percent more of their budgets on education than did lottery states. History has shown us that lotteries are not the spending fix they are promoted to be.
Lotteries Prey Upon the Poor
People spend $70 billion a year playing the lottery. Proponents say this is better than raising taxes because it’s voluntary and it’s “just a fun game.” This is tragically wrong. Half of that $70 billion comes from the poorest third of households, to whom lotteries are disproportionately marketed. That’s tens of billions of dollars coming from society’s neediest families and households.
It is understandable that low-income families would in desperation seek nearly any path out of poverty, despite the minuscule odds of winning the lottery. It is less understandable (and bad policy) for the state to pursue schemes designed to take money from those in greatest financial need.
Utah Is Right to Say No to the Lottery
Utah’s responsible citizenry is right to have rejected lotteries for so long. The economic and education funding arguments that proponents favor are just smoke and mirrors used to hide the very real harm state-sponsored gambling does to the most vulnerable in society.
Duke University Study: The State Sponsored Lottery | A Failure of Policy & Ethics
Lewiston Tribune: Why Study Kids, When Idaho Has A Lottery?
Deseret News: Why A Utah Lottery Is Not In The Cards Anytime Soon
Cornell University Study: Hitting The Jackpot Or Hitting The Skids
CNN Money: Seven States That Don’t Have A Lottery