Gov. Mead, please veto the Lottery Bill: A social justice argument

HB-77 establishes a lottery in the state of Wyoming.

I have been hoping that the bill would fall apart somewhere along the way in the legislature. With every Democrat in the legislature backing it (we hold 13 of the 90 seats in the legislature), I had hoped to not to get involved.

However, it has now passed both houses and cleared conference committee after a compromise about how the revenues from a lottery would be used (money will first go to local governments and then to public education).

The bill is now awaiting action by Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead.

Gov. Mead, please veto this bill.

The arguments for the bill have been as follows:

1. We should keep money that Wyomingites spend on lotteries in neighboring states here in Wyoming.

I understand this concern, especially from the politicians in the Cheyenne area where Wyoming residents are a short drive from northern Colorado. The thing is, Wyoming is always going to be a small state. Other states and areas will always have things that we do not have. This does not seem to be a justification for the state to secure such services for the residents of our state.

Trust me, I would love actual Apple Store in the state. My children would love a Toys R’ Us in the state (NOTE: I am glad we don’t…I do not like going there!). My wife would like an Old Navy. My wife and I would like a Cheesecake Factory Restaurant. However, the market will likely never justify having any number of things in Wyoming. It is both a blessing and a curse.

2. Wyoming could use the additionally revenue stream for local governments and school.

Funding for local governments and schools is a challenge across the United States. That said, in Wyoming we have no state income tax. We have a low sales tax.

Wyoming also have $1.6 billion in the rainy day reserve fund. I am not saying that Wyoming should be dipping into that fund, but we have a wealth of natural resources and a small population. As a budget matter, Wyoming does not have the same pressures that have led other states to adopt lotteries.

3. People enjoy lotteries and would like to play them at home in Wyoming.

That is nice. However, it is not a public policy argument. Well, at least not a convincing or compelling one. The state might encourage sport teams, theaters, or amusement parks through incentives like tax breaks or loans. But that is different that the state creating an entity such as the lottery.

I am particularly disturbed by a lack of any serious appeal to the public good in these arguments.

The Wyoming Association of Churches has been among the few vocal opponents to the state lottery. Their arguments are as follows:

  • Providing “entertainment” is not an appropriate role of government.
  • Lotteries do cause harm, especially for the poor.  It’s like a regressive tax.
  • When people with low incomes spend money on lottery tickets, the result is less is spent for necessities.
  • A lottery is a game of chance, i.e., gambling, and creates a risk to those vulnerable to a gambling addiction and those desperately seeking a way out of financial strife.
  • Potential revenues to Wyoming are minimal in relation to the costs.

 

I agree with all of these points.

I am not so much opposed to gambling on moral grounds. For the most part I just consider it foolish.

Yet, the lottery is not only a program that harms the poor, it is a predatory program which exploits the poor. For me, this is a matter of social justice. We should be advocating programs that advance the interests of the least well-off, not ones which thrive based on the exploitation and manipulation of the disadvantaged.

Some have said that this is a patriarchal argument. However, I would posit that the lottery is not being advanced to provide entertainment for the working-class at there local convenient store. Instead, there are business interests who view this as a opportunity to bring more traffic into there establishments. That will always be their goal and that is not the problem. The problem is when the legislature does the bidding of business interests at the expense of the vulnerable and voiceless.

Now, I recognize that the vast majority of other states have lotteries. These states have not been ruined by the presence of the lottery. Yet, I believe that this is a chance for Wyoming to stand apart.

Gov. Mead, the arguments for the lottery are underwhelming at best. The arguments against it are rooted in a commitment to better community. Please veto HB-77. Thank you.

About Chris Henrichsen

Chris Henrichsen has moved Approaching Justice off of Patheos. Find his latest posts and the new Approaching Justice. Thanks!

  • Mark B.

    New York has to advertise it’s lottery games to try to keep the revenue coming in. Just ask the governor if he wants to start the state down a path that leads to this:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cecX84RXZxo

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/approachingjustice/ Chris Henrichsen

    Mark, that is part of what I am worried about…though I think it may also be part of what some people at looking forward to.

  • Patterson Keller, Sr.

    Gov. Mead, I agree, Please do not sign this bill!


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