Learning to love the lottery

Stephen McGarvey

With Friday’s $656 million Mega Millions jackpot finally won, there is much renewed discussion about the lottery process, and on gambling in general. Opponents claim the lottery is essentially a tax on the poor and a watered-down version of gambling, which ultimately hurts our society. Supporters applaud the lottery as a way to bolster the economy and save public schools. Both are wrong. The lottery and similar forms of gambling are simply entertaining, relatively harmless parts of our society that should be encouraged.

It is no secret that winning the lottery is astronomically improbable. Anyone who plays is well aware of this. In fact, the odds of winning are printed on the back of each ticket. Most people purchase tickets for the whimsy of the experience, the thrill of the drawing or the social value of going in with friends or coworkers. Taking this away simply does not make sense.

Opponents claim the lottery is problematic because the poor spend more money on lottery tickets as a percentage of income than the wealthy. According to detractors, this disproportionately “taxes” them and takes away funds the poor could use for food, clothing or more reliable investments. However, such arguments seem to completely ignore the fact that buying lottery tickets is all based on freedom of choice. To eliminate the lottery would be to eliminate a product that millions of Americans want, and as a government whose job is to represent the will of the people, removing it does not seem appropriate. The “we’re doing this for your own good” argument is frighteningly authoritarian and even condescending in nature to those who partake in the lottery.

But the reasons for encouraging the lottery extend far beyond those of personal individual freedoms. Thirty percent of revenue raised directly goes to benefit public schools — that’s $1 billion per year just in Texas. Since education is already facing so many cuts, the state should be looking to bolster its revenue any way it can. Though it is true that lottery revenue does not currently account for a very large piece of the academic funding pie, anything is better than nothing. Furthermore, 70 percent of Texans said that they would rather have a lottery than pay higher taxes, according to the Austin American-Statesman. While the lottery’s effect on schools isn’t the savior some make it out to be, it is still a significant contribution that should not be eradicated.

Other detractors equate the lottery to casino gambling, but this is a comparison of apples and oranges. Moreover, the lottery is not centralized like a casino, so vice cannot concentrate in one location. Any arguments against the lottery’s process are strictly based on personal morality and therefore have no place in
political discussion.

As Texans, we love our lottery. It gives some of us entertainment and others a tax break, but everyone ultimately walks away satisfied. The state has discovered a great way to make a portion of tax revenue optional to only those who opt into it and similar ideas should be encouraged. For example, 57 percent of Texans prefer legalizing slot machines over paying higher taxes, according to a poll conducted by Perception Insight. It’s about time the government started listening to its people’s desires while simultaneously making a profit. But until Gov. Rick Perry and the Texas Legislature decide to start enacting more policies based on the desires of Texans rather than their personal, moral hesitations, these changes may never happen. The losers? Our already-struggling schools.

McGarvey is a business honors freshman.