A Lottery for Tennessee? / #1
By: Rubel Shelly

The Constitution of the State of Tennessee prohibits lotteries. The people who wrote that anti-lottery legislation didnít do so in a vacuum. Many of them were poker-playing, horse-racing, put-money-on-something-occasionally gamblers. They werenít prudes trying to take the fun out of othersí lives.

So why did those framers of our state charter write the document that way?

They had enough knowledge of gambling generally to know that it is an unsavory business. It invites corruption. (Think about Tennesseeís experience with bingo only a few years back.) It preys on human weakness. (Greed.) It lures societyís most vulnerable. (The poor and less-educated play lotteries far more heavily.) And it encourages people to trust luck over hard work and responsibility, to pin their hopes on quick wealth over frugality and saving.

The people who drafted that document believed the new State of Tennessee would be better served by people who worked, saved, and eliminated debt than by people who dreamed of instant wealth from games of chance. Have things really changed that much? Have we discovered that the reverse is better? Hardly!

But canít we have both? Canít hard-working, responsible citizens plink down a few dollars occasionally on a game of chance without abandoning their principled lifestyle? Of course they can. But that is another reason our state constitution is written as it is.

The officials who drafted that document believed it would be wrong for them to give official encouragement Ė and downright wicked to provide enticement Ė for citizens to pursue frequent and persistent gambling. Ten dollars on my ability to shoot straighter than you is quite different from instant-win lottery tickets in $20- to $60- to $100-packets at grocery stores, gas stations, and free-standing kiosks all over the state!

They werenít Bible-thumpers who tried to prove that Christian Scripture said anyone who bought a lottery ticket would go to hell. They simply believed that systematic gambling programs were not in the public interest. So they apparently reasoned it would be unethical to put the state in the business of encouraging such behavior.

ďStates ought not to be in the business of lotteries,Ē says Howard J. Shaffer, director of the division on addictions at Harvard Medical School and a premier researcher on gambling. ďIt is a conflict of interest. States are here to protect and serve.Ē

The original vision for the State of Tennessee was clearer than the one being offered voters in November. We are being asked to change our constitution, legalize a state lottery, and put Tennessee into the business of trying to make something that is clearly bad for people look good to them.

Iím voting against it. Iím mailing a contribution to Gambling Free Tennessee Inc. (P.O. Box 150871, Nashville, TN 37215) immediately. And Iím asking you to help defeat the lottery proposal as well.

The $40-billion lottery industry needs to expand, lure more players, and maintain its profitability. It has targeted Tennessee. The goal is not to build us better roads, fight crime, or educate our children but to lure our most vulnerable citizens into a trap the writers of our stateís constitution saw only too clearly.

I think they were wise. I hope we donít undo their ban on state-sponsored gambling.