How can gambling be bad for citizens but good for the state?
By Brandon Ferdig
While people have to wrestle with their own budgets and morals to see if gambling has a place in their lives, there's another aspect of the Minnesota State Lottery that doesn't get brought up too much: the state of Minnesota. Yet it's a worthy aspect to examine.
I grew up seeing the loon logo on print ads and hearing the loon cry on radio and TV spots. It was a regular part of my world, not a deviation that warranted concern. I even kind of liked the jingle. Thus, it was easy to recognize the good that resulted from the state lottery: specifically, wildlife preservation and the tens of millions it raises for this cause each year.
Not too long ago, I wrote a piece about the moral hazard of using traffic tickets and other citations for use in the budgets of different levels of government. We shouldn't need lawbreakers in order to meet our public budgets. But neither should we need people to gamble.
Gambling once was judged as sinful. And though the fire and brimstone has gone out of fashion, it's odd that we've come so far as to advocate gambling. It isn't as direct as any one person telling another to gamble. We hope that those we care about don't go and waste money on lotto tickets, but we encourage everyone else to.
I've seen bus stops and buses themselves dressed in lotto promotion. The obvious reason for this is that bus riders are more likely to buy lottery tickets. But did we ever stop to think: Why as a state are we trying to get people who can least afford it to waste their money on lottery tickets?
The lottery's website touts the record-breaking tens of millions raised last year. But what are we cheering? That more people damaged their finances?
We've gotten it all backwards.
It seems obvious that people are better off not gambling, but our reliance is so high, and the state lottery is so embedded in our lives, that we lose track of this and promote it. (And now we do so to an even higher level because of the new Vikings stadium.)
Though the state would miss the money, the lottery is a big hit on the personal incomes and savings of countless individuals. And these citizens — a k a the taxpayers — of Minnesota, and thus the state of Minnesota, would be more prosperous if they used this money to spend and invest on truly worthwhile (and economy-building) activities. Without the lottery money pit, the economic pie could be a lot bigger.
But as a state, we don't want this. We encourage, we advertise, we lure people to play the lottery. We've put ourselves in a moral bind that polarizes our wishes to help people live better lives while hoping they make a bad choice and gamble more.
The solution: Don't use gambling revenue for state budget purposes.