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March 20, 1999
Column #916

THE SEDUCTION OF THE HOPE LOTTERY

     Alabama is being seduced by a very attractive neighbor, Georgia's HOPE Lottery.  Her lure appears irresistible, though she is nothing but a shameless harlot.

     Since 1993, the Hope Lottery has given $717 million in HOPE Scholarships to help 368,000 students pay for going to college.   In-state students with a high school average of a ''B'' may qualify for HOPE scholarship to attend a public or private college.  If the maximum $1,500 HOPE Scholarship is spent at a public college, it virtually pays the tuition, making college ''free.''

     In addition, more than 97,000 Georgia adults have earned their GED (General Equivalency Degree) using HOPE funds. Another portion of HOPE funds have helped 246,000 four-year-olds attend voluntary pre-kindergarten classes. Finally, a fourth pot of $1.1 billion has been used to buy computers for schools, colleges and technical institutes.

     Furthermore, no new tax was needed. It is all financed by the Georgia Lottery, paid for by people who hope their lottery ticket will make them millionaires. During fiscal 1998, lottery ticket sales totaled more than $1.72 billion, generating $555.2 million in profits for the state.

     Alabama's new Governor, Don Siegelman, a Democrat, defeated a Republican incumbent, Fob James, by promising to create an Alabama HOPE Lottery, with its returns.  Alabama's House has passed the bill, but with a price attached.  A number of legislators are insisting that video poker machines be allowed at four state horse and dog tracks, which fear going bankrupt with a new competing form of gambling, the lottery. 

     What's wrong with all this?

     1. The poor pay. In 1997, lotteries in 37 states took $16 billion out of the pockets of the desperate poor hoping for the jackpot .In Chelsea, a poor section of Boston, there is one lottery retailer for every 363 residents, many of whom are on welfare. They spend 8 percent of their incomes on lottery tickets.   In affluent Milton, there is one retailer for every 3,657 residents.

     2. ''Get rich quick'' schemes seduce the culture.   Massachusetts now sells more than $500 woth of lottery tickets each year for every man, woman and child in the state. ''The New York Times'' reported that Ernie Kovic, a 28-year-old waiter studying aircraft design at a trade school, stood in line to buy $3,000 worth of Powerball tickets, money he was saving for tuition.  Why?  ''If I win, I won't have to go to school,'' he said.  Of course, he was one of the 79,999,999 losers. He traded a real future for a hopeless dream. Ten percent of all lottery players account for half of all lottery purchasers.

     3.  Government no longer protects the weak. Alabama's constitution outlaws gambling,  to protect the vulnerable from ''profiting from the desperation of the poor,'' says Dr. James Dobson in his current leter to 2.4 million families. ''How times have changed.''  Now they promote gambling with vigor.   ''Indeed, today's politicians love lotteries because they allow them to feed their voracious appetites for revenues without having to pay the political price for raising taxes. Truly, the fox is in the henhouse.''

     4. Casinos foster crime, suicide, child abuse.   If the price of getting a lottery in Alabama is that four casinos are set up with a thousand video poker machines, suicides will rise nearby, according to Prof. John Kindt, of the University of Illinois. ''Within two years of casinos opening in South Dakota, child abuse cases went up 42 percent.  People losing their paychecks go home and beat up on the kids.  Around casinos, people spent 10 percent less on food and 25 percent less on clothing and 37 percent have dipped into savings. And bankruptcies around casinos rose 400 percent in Memphis after casinos opened in nearby Mississippi. Crime around casinos has increased 100 percent faster than in non-casino counties.''

     5. Gambling destroys families. ''People who think gambling revenue is the answer often fail to acknowledge the real problem in school performance is the number of children born out of wedlock or whose homes are disrupted by divorce,''says Gary Palmer, President of the Alabama Family Alliance. Alabama ranks sixth in the nation in divorces now. ''Gambling will not fix that problem, it will contribute to it."

     6. The winners are the rich. Those who received HOPE scholarships have an income of $44,876 while Georgia's average income is $32,359. Why?  Hope scholarship are really tax credits, not grants. If a family's income is so low it pays no taxes, it cannot collect HOPE.

     My question is are Alabama's religious leaders denouncing the immorality of the proposed lottery and video poker?  Only a few, too few.     

Copyright 1999 Michael J. McManus.

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