A Lottery for Tennessee? / #6
By: Rubel Shelly

The Tennessee Constitution prohibits lotteries. (A little bit of America's history with lotteries and other forms of gambling would reveal to our legislators why it does. It opened the door to political corruption.) Our legislature has put the lottery issue on the ballot in November 2002 to change the law -- and our habits.

The naivete and dishonesty that have swirled together to create the possibility of Tennessee joining with 38 states and the District of Columbia to have a state-sponsored lottery are monumental. Just think about it . . .

* For every one-in-a-million lottery winner, there are dozens, hundred, and thousands of people who have blown their grocery, rent, or debt-repayment money that week in the hope of catching lighting in a bottle.

* The millions of dollars Tennessee would reap from sponsoring a lottery won't solve our education problems. Lottery money will just be switched for other education funds in a classic bait-and-switch scheme. The state will presumably have more money, but more money won=t change legislative priorities. Lotteries have not fixed the education problems in other states that run them.

* Offering the lottery as "painless taxation" to Tennesseans is false advertising. Not only will our state have to spend millions setting up another agency to run and regulate the lottery, but predictable social costs that always and inevitably accompany gambling will have to be funded. We could easily go in the hole!

* The lesson that everybody from President Bush to Dave Ramsey to Sen. Cohen says people need to learn for the sake of our fiscal health is to increase personal savings and eliminate debt. States with lotteries can hardly afford to encourage personal savings among their citizens. Instead, they lure them to buy lottery tickets.

* The State of Tennessee may soon be in the same ethical conflict as the people who sell alcohol, tobacco, and sex-and-violence-filled movies. That is, we could become like other states who have to try to make what's clearly bad for people look good for people. Do we want our governor, elected officials, and state-paid agency heads speaking on platforms to encourage fiscal diligence -- with "Play the Tennessee Lottery" buttons on their lapels? Our state government should be protecting its citizens from exploitation rather than bilking them.

* The bipartisan National Gambling Impact Study Commission reported in 1999 that 15 million Americans are "problem gamblers" and that teens are particularly vulnerable to problems associated with gambling. The commission recommended a moratorium on the spread of gambling in the United States. So Tennessee wants to join the states around us in promoting gambling?
If Tennesseans choose to go to Las Vegas, Gulfport, or Kentucky to play slots, roll dice, or buy lottery tickets, they have the freedom to do so. But to put the State of Tennessee into the gambling business is something else again. This isn't a church-over-secular or self-righteous-over-public-spirited issue. It's a common-sense-over-bilking-the-public issue.