The term "lottery" is defined as a drawing of lots in which prizes are distributed to the winners among persons buying a chance. Lotteries are fundamentally different from other forms of gambling, as they are only provided by the state.
Lotteries have been part of American civilization since 1612, when the English initiated a lottery (in the form of an authorized drawing) to help fund the Jamestown settlement in Virginia. Historically, lotteries had a starting and ending point; they weren't meant to be ongoing sources of taxation.
Assuming various forms today, lotteries have been legalized in 43 states (plus the District of Columbia). The only states without a lottery are: Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Mississippi, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming. Lottery sales are in excess of $57 billion, and lottery gamblers lost more than $17 billion in 2007.
Six states currently operate highly addictive video lottery terminals or VLTs: Delaware, New York, Oregon, Rhone Island, South Dakota and West Virginia. In West Virginia alone, people gambled more than $15 billion on VLTs during 2007.
States have effectively marketed their lottery-based promises and false hope to America, and citizens have swallowed them hook, line and sinker. But, if you scratch beneath the surface of the "help-your-state" lottery veneer, neither citizens nor states are winners. There are a number of legitimate questions citizens need to ask before supporting lottery expansion or prior to voting to allow a state lottery:
Learn about the lottery before you vote!
Charles T. Clotfelter and Phillip J. Cook, Duke University professors and lottery experts, have done extensive research on lotteries. Their book, Selling Hope: State Lotteries in America1, provides a thorough exploration of the costs and benefits of state-run gambling operations –better known as lotteries.
On April 19, 2000, Clotfelter testified before the North Carolina House Select Committee and reiterated his concerns about state-owned gambling. Here are a few points he made in his testimony:2
According to a Tax Foundation researcher, Alicia Hansen, "The lottery is more than a controversial way to add a little money to state coffers; it is a tax and should be evaluated as such. When we subject it to the tests of good tax policy, it fails."
Hansen goes on to say, "Lottery proponents argue that a tax is a mandatory or compulsory payment, and playing the lottery is voluntary, so lottery revenue cannot be a tax. But they're confusing the purchase of a product with the payment of the tax on the product."3
North Carolina's Republican Party Platform states the situation succinctly (Article V, 2008): "The state lottery monopoly turns government into a bookie, operates only by false advertising, capitalizes on broken dreams and personal irresponsibility, and places the burden of taxation most heavily on those who are least able to afford it."4
Should state governments be exploiting their own citizens through promoting lottery gambling?
Focus on the Family opposes all forms of legalized gambling for both moral and pragmatic reasons. We believe the net societal effect of our government's embrace of gambling has been disastrous, especially for families. The lottery, put simply, is state-owned and state-operated gambling.
As a nation governed by a representative form of democracy, our elected government's primary purpose is to serve the people through ensuring basic security and by maintaining public order. Citizens hold the power to elect state and federal officials that best represent their views and values. Subsequently, government is held accountable to public scrutiny, as well as other branches of government. The concept of state-owned gambling, therefore, presents some obvious philosophical and ethical challenges.
When the idea of state-owned, -operated and –sponsored lotteries was first brought before the public, citizens were naturally inclined to trust that this government-sponsored activity would represent their best interests. Lotteries were established to complete a set objective (build a bridge, make a road, construct a school, etc) and then terminated once the goal was achieved. Lotteries had a set beginning and ending. Because a lottery is state-owned gambling – with the same inherent dangers of other forms of gambling – lotteries were used only as a temporary means to collect revenue.
But today, lotteries have morphed into permanent means for funding necessary, ongoing and essential programs such as public education. As a result, states have become dependent on state-sponsored gambling revenues, giving credence for states to become the biggest "bookies" in town. Who else has a license to operate mini-casinos in restaurants, convenience stores and grocery outlets?
By endorsing lotteries, state governments have placed themselves in the awkward and paradoxical position of funding a public virtue through the promotion and expansion of a social vice. One institution builds strong ethics, good character and quality education, while the other institution corrupts, perverts and promotes ignorance. One part of society is built through the degradation of another part of society. Some call this social cannibalism. Be assured, the net societal impact of gambling is negative, as social costs outweigh the state gambling-derived revenues by a ratio greater than three to one.
Concerning lotteries' impacts on families, consider that, in relationships where a spouse is addicted to gambling, domestic abuse is 10-times more likely to occur. When alcohol is added to gambling addiction, domestic abuse is 50-times more likely. Children are abused and neglected, bankruptcies increase, desperate addicts turn into criminals and families are ultimately destroyed.
Lotteries are presented to the public as a benign form of gambling. But they are wolves in sheep's clothing, especially since the invention of modern video lottery terminals (or video slot machines) to collect money from citizens rather than paper tickets. According to researchers, these machines are the "crack cocaine" of the lottery or gambling industry -- the most addictive form of gambling ever in history. Unsuspecting citizens are becoming addicted in one year's time, with these machines being nothing more than addiction delivery devices.
So, before state governments further embark on social and economic experiments that seek to dupe the public into gambling "for a good cause," citizens and families must recognize lotteries for what they are:
As Dr. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, explains, "Clearly, gambling is a destroyer that ruins lives and wrecks families." Lotteries promote gambling, which leads to addiction. And gambling addiction destroys families.
Matthew 7:15-20 warns us of sheep in wolves' clothing. It also tells us that we can distinguish between good and bad trees by the fruit they produce. Lottery gambling is clearly a "bad tree," or even a weed. It strangles that which could be fruitful, and it weakens society through causing addiction and destroying families.
See Focus on the Family Position Statement on Gambling for more detail.
In a 13-page opinion for the Attorney General of the U.S. Criminal Division, the U.S. Department of Justice claims that federal law bars states from privatizing lotteries. States must "exercise actual control over all significant business decisions made by the lottery enterprise" in order to comply with federal laws about lottery operations.1
Focus on the Family opposes lotteries and the sale of state lotteries to private entities for legal, ethical and pragmatic reasons. If a lottery is deemed a burden or is no longer serving the purpose for which it was intended, the state should close and remove all state-owned lottery operations.
Ultimately, privatization of a state lottery is the equivalent of allowing a single casino owner to have instant access to thousands of lottery locations across a state through convenience stores and other established lottery vendors. At least with the state ownership, lotteries are forced to be somewhat transparent with citizens and maintain a greater degree of accountability to state governments. With private ownership, however, many of these accountability and safety measures will be minimized if not completely absent.
Ernie Passailaigue, president of the North American Association of State & Provincial Lotteries, said, "[T]he act of privatizing lotteries is Wall Street driven. … when thinking about lottery privatization, policymakers will need to consider the loss of state oversight and motivation for corporate business decision-making."2