The Lottery: Preying on the Most Vulnerable

The Lottery: Preying on the Most Vulnerable

2019 | Week of October 21 | Radio Transcript #1330

The Wisconsin Lottery began operations in September 1988 after Wisconsin voters adopted a constitutional amendment in 1987 that allowed the Legislature to create a state lottery with net proceeds to be distributed for property tax relief. Since 1995, the Department of Revenue has managed the Wisconsin Lottery.

That’s a brief history of how the state lottery came to be in the Badger State. I’m not a fan of the lottery. I think any gimmick that requires the citizens to lose in order for the state to win is bad governance. But that’s the reality when the state is involved in gambling. The more the people spend—and lose—the more money that rolls into the state coffers.

Those supporting the lottery would argue with that, but the reality is that the lottery employs a lot of people whose paychecks are to some degree dependent on lottery ticket sales. And then there’s the property tax relief. Does the state government really think that the vast majority of home owners in our state salivate over the, on-average, $109 annual property tax credit we get from the lottery? Frankly, if that tax credit is the difference between a person owning a home or not, something is seriously wrong that has nothing to do with the lottery or the property tax credit.

But lawmakers fight hard to retain the lottery in order to provide the property tax credit thinking that is a major reason people vote for them. Really? If we did a poll with the property tax credit generated by the lottery as one of the reasons someone voted for certain legislators or even a certain party, I highly doubt that it would appear in even the top 10 reasons. Lawmakers, regardless of party, just can’t bring themselves to cut a cash cow, even if it means more of the people they represent lose than win—and even when it means those who can least afford to lose are way too often the biggest losers.

Studies show that the highest number of scratch-off lottery ticket sales in Wisconsin are in the zip codes where we have the highest poverty rates and the highest number of welfare recipients. That’s what I mean by the biggest losers.

Wisconsin Lottery’s ticket sales increased by 10.7 percent between fiscal years 2016-2017 to 2017-2018. Sales of instant tickets, which are scratch-off and pull-tab tickets, increased by 9.0 percent. Lotto sales increased 13.9 percent. How’d that happen? Part of the increase was because the state continues to do illegal advertising of the lottery, done under the guise of “product information.”

In his last budget, Governor Walker proposed increasing lottery advertising by $3 million per year. The legislature coughed up just $1 million more per year, bringing the total illegal lottery advertising budget to a cool $8.5 million.

Apparently, these ads work since lottery ticket sales are well over $600 million each year right now in our state, which means lots of people are obviously willing to put down some serious cash on these games.

And speaking of cash, right now state law requires lottery tickets can only be sold for cold, hard cash. That’s why lottery ticket retailers all have ATM machines. But at least with an ATM machine, banks limit the amount per day that can be withdrawn, thereby making it harder for problem gamblers to empty their checking and/or savings account.

But apparently some Republicans think this restriction isn’t appropriate. Representative Terry Katsma from Oostburg and Senator Alberta Darling from River Hills are introducing a bill that would allow lottery ticket sales using debit cards. In their co-sponsor memo to other legislators encouraging them to join them in supporting this bill, the authors were quick to say a debit card is the same as cash and that their bill doesn’t allow a true credit card. I disagree. At least with cash you have to plan ahead or have access to an ATM machine—and that comes, as mentioned, with daily limits. By the way, for retailers, a debit card does act much like a credit card, costing the retailers fees for handling a debit card transaction. Apparently, we have many potential losers with this very bad idea.

The state lottery doesn’t need more ticket sales. This most recent bad-idea proposal that is ultimately about increasing ticket sales needs to die before it gains any traction—and before it hurts more people. The state government doesn’t need to be winning any more at the expense of its citizens, especially its most vulnerable citizens.

This is Julaine Appling for Wisconsin Family Council, reminding you the Prophet Hosea said, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”

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