Government shouldn’t be in the gambling business

Nevada’s Democratic legislators apparently have decided that the time is right for the Silver State to implement a state-run lottery. Led by Assembly Speaker Richard Perkins, a Henderson Democrat, and Assembly Democratic floor leader Barbara Buckley of Las Vegas, they want to solve the “crisis” in education funding.

“Our classrooms are too large, and not enough students have textbooks,” Perkins was quoted as saying in an Associated Press story. He has called for a “dedicated and directed funding stream for schools.” This “dedicated and directed funding stream” would come via a state lottery—despite the prohibition of lotteries in the Nevada Constitution.

Let’s also not forget that Buckley said that lottery proposals have died summary deaths in the state’s Legislature 26 times since 1970.

Undaunted, Perkins says a lottery could raise $30 million to $50 million per year from the state’s 2.3 million citizens. State legislators would have to approve the lottery in two legislatures, and citizens would then have to vote to change the constitution to permit it. Perkins believes the lottery could come before voters as early as 2008.

To be fair, 37 states, as well as Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., have lotteries in place. Of course, none of these states has a gaming establishment that drives half of the state’s economy, either. It would be simply moronic to implement a lottery system that competes with gaming and to risk reducing the rather sizable amount of tax revenues that gaming contributes to the Silver State’s coffers.

Furthermore, the government doesn’t go into business to compete with retailers or banks, so why should it compete with casinos?

What is particularly ironic is that Nevada Democrats routinely claim to be the party of the “little guy,” yet here they are advocating another way for people to impoverish themselves.

Let’s be clear: The motivation of lottery ticket buyers is the prospect of getting rich quick. This motivation is much more likely to appeal to the working poor than any other demographic.

As in any gambling environment, a handful of players will win large sums of money, but the vast majority of players simply impoverish themselves by the amount of money they spend.

Since state lotteries on average pay out about 50 percent of their revenues in prizes, the average lottery player can expect to receive about 50 cents for every dollar spent on tickets. It would appear that playing the lottery is a much quicker route to poverty than to wealth.

Even when a lottery does provide additional funds to education, this is not necessarily the same thing as benefiting education. The state has proven itself to be a poor educator time and again, as student performance on standardized tests has shown.

Advertising a lottery as providing benefits to education is also potentially deceptive. In some states that provide money to schools through a lottery, the regular school funding is offset by the amount of lottery revenue. One study examined seven states’ lotteries and found that in four of them, there was an actual decline in education spending after the introduction of a lottery.

Perhaps most important is the fact that a state lottery places government in an industry that should be left entirely to the private sector. Whether it’s lotteries, horse racing or amusement parks, providing entertainment is outside the legitimate functions of government.

Setting up a state-run business of any type simply to produce revenue for state activities puts the state into an inappropriate role.