Don’t think of it as losing money; think of it as investing in your state.
State lotteries often are viewed as a volunteer tax on the people who choose to play. The current advertising campaign of the Missouri Lottery takes that philosophy to new heights by urging state residents to “Play It Forward” for Missouri schools.
It’s a play on the recent “pay it forward” theme that urges people to do good deeds not because they are owed, as in “pay it back,” but as an investment in the future. In Missouri’s television campaign, gleeful actors declare they are buying lottery tickets as a way to “play it forward” for “virtual classrooms,” “scholarship programs” and “dedicated teachers.” An announcer at the end of the commercial reminds viewers that “Every ticket gives back to education.”
It’s true that 24.8 cents of every dollar spent on Missouri lottery tickets goes to education, but the ad campaign seems like a questionable premise on which to encourage more gambling in the state. Wouldn’t it be better to just skip the middle man and “play it forward” by simply donating money to your local schools?
Kansas schools also are looking for funds, but they won’t find them at the Kansas Lottery. It’s a common misconception that some portion of the state’s lottery goes to fund education, but that is not the case. According to the Kansas Lottery’s website, 57 percent of its proceeds in fiscal year 2012 went for prizes (a little lower than the 64.8 percent paid in Missouri), while 29.1 percent was transferred to the state. Of the $72 million that was given to the state, $42.2 million went to the Kansas Economic Development Initiatives Fund, about $7.5 million to prison construction and juvenile detention facilities and $22 million to the state general fund.
Just $80,000 of the lottery proceeds went to the state’s fund to deal with problem gambling. That allocation was increased to $1.2 million for the current fiscal year, but a study released last week indicated that may not be enough to deal with those gambling problems in Kansas, which operates the lottery and owns three casinos. A survey conducted for the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services indicated that up to 9 percent of Kansans are at risk of developing gambling problems and 26 percent could be affected by the uncontrolled gambling of a relative or friend.
The lottery was the most common form of gambling, with 47 percent of adults playing last year. More disturbing, the survey reported that one in six gamblers was trying to win money to pay bills or cope with everyday problems.
The “play it forward” idea may sound good, but the reality is that too many people who participate in state-sponsored gambling are wagering money they really can’t afford to lose. Lotteries and casinos may seem like a harmless way for Kansas to supplement its revenues, but, the state needs to also accept responsibility for the problems their gambling operations cause for Kansas families.