Democrats & Liberals Archives

State-Run Internet Lotteries Should Be Shut Down

I happened to stumble upon an episode of Frontline from 1990 in which they document America’s lottery fever at that time. Lotteries are one of the issues that liberals and conservatives agree on. Almost every state that put the question to a popular vote of the people, liberal or conservative, red or blue, has voted by an average of a 2-to-1 margin in favor of establishing a state lottery. Only Alabama in 1999 and Oklahoma in 1994 (Though voters later approved a lottery ballot measure in 2004) voted down the creation of a state lottery.

Here in Michigan, the ballot measure to create the Michigan Lottery passed with 73% of the vote in 1972. Everywhere from Texas to Louisiana to California, states on every side of the political spectrum all overwhelmingly supported having a state lottery. Florida voted with 63.57% in favor in 1986, Georgia with 52% in 1992, New York with 60.57% in 1964, Iowa with 67% in 1972, Ohio with 64% in 1973.

But as time has gone on and technology become more robust, states have become increasingly shameless in their move away from marketing the lottery as a revenue-generator for education and toward making the lottery the only form of legal online gambling.

More and more states have authorized internet sales for their lotteries, with hardly any controls on who purchases tickets and guaranteeing that the purchaser is physically in the state in which the game is being sold. Minnesota began selling Mega Millions, Powerball, and other state drawing games not just online, but also available by adding the cost of the ticket to your gasoline purchase at gas pumps across the state. Here in Michigan, the lottery has begun offering Keno and instant games online, at a price of anywhere from 5 cents to $20 per play, as well as offering Mega Millions, Powerball, Fantasy 5 and Classic Lotto 47 for purchase over the internet.

As if that weren't bad enough, the Michigan Lottery has now mandated that retailers with the capacity accept credit and debit cards as payment for lottery tickets. Most states still require that players use cash only.

Now sure every state has a phone number on the back of every ticket that you can call to get help for problem gambling. And sure, you can take your credit card to an ATM and max it out. But that takes several affirmative steps: Getting in your car, driving to the store, using the ATM to get a several-hundred-dollar cash advance, taking said cash to the counter and purchasing hundreds of dollars in lottery tickets. With online lotteries, all you have to do is punch in your credit card number and get busy playing, and we all know how fast and easy it can be to burn through your credits if you've ever sat down at a slot machine for a while.

The lottery markets itself as a source of fun and entertainment, with proceeds going to education, so much so that when it was created in 2005, North Carolina named its lottery the "North Carolina Education Lottery." That may have been true even ten years ago, when scratch-offs were usually no more expensive than $5 and draw games drew only once or twice a week. However the lotteries have become more and more shameless, just as bad as brick-and-mortar, for-profit-business casinos in encouraging and enabling people to gamble away their livelihood at the same time as running ads on TV with a phone number for confidential problem gambling help.

I'm not opposed to the existence of a state lottery at all. In fact, I play the Michigan Lottery semi-regularly, though the most I've ever won at once was $50. But I have some very grave reservations about states making internet gambling legal in the same way that got Bodog shut down by the feds in 2012.

In May of 2015, Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) introduced the Restoration of America's Wire Act, which would have banned these sorts of things. I may be a partisan SOB at times, but this is an issue that transcends partisanship in my opinion and would be glad to work with the folks on the other aisle to solve.

Posted by TreyL at April 26, 2016 5:26 PM
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