Obama's opposition to lotteries applauded

Baptist Press
Posted: Nov 30, 2012 5:22 PM
NASHVILLE (BP) -- As two winners of the $588 million Powerball jackpot prepare to split the winnings, new discussion is emerging of President Obama's views of the lottery as a "troublesome" form of "regressive taxation" harmful to the poor.

During a "Chicago Tonight" interview as an Illinois senator, Obama spoke against the lottery in that state, new blogosphere discussion is pointing out. Particularly, a blog by Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, links to the 2000 interview. Responses to the blog indicate Obama's view likely resonates with Southern Baptists.

"I would argue that if you look at it as a whole," Obama said in the interview, "in most states across the board this tends to be a form of regressive taxation, and I don't think it's necessarily the fairest way for us to raise revenue in the state. What we know from studies ... is more lottery tickets are sold among working-class folks than there are in Winnetka (Ill.) and well-to-do areas."

Illinois instituted its state lottery in 1974, selling its millionth ticket just five months later.

"One of the concerns I have obviously is the disproportionate number of people who consistently buy lottery tickets tend to be lower-income and working class people who can least afford it," Obama said in the interview, available on YouTube. "Even if they're not compulsive gamblers, they are probably spending money that they don't necessarily have.

"Now, we might say that this is their entertainment dollar the same way that somebody else has an entertainment dollar and spends it on a movie," Obama said. "But I think the fact that the state systematically targets what we know to be lower-income persons as a way of raising revenue is troublesome."

Studies indicate more tickets are sold among working-class individuals than among the more affluent, Obama said.

Stetzer said he agrees with Obama's view of the lottery.

"While someone is going to get rich this week, a whole lot of people are going to get a little poorer," Stetzer wrote. "We don't need another 'tax on the poor' and we don't need the government supporting and promoting such efforts."

Stetzer referred to a Carnegie Mellon study that pinpointed "poverty's central role in people's decisions to buy lottery tickets."

"Some poor people see playing the lottery as their best opportunity for improving their financial situations, albeit wrongly so," the 2008 study's lead author Emily Haisley, then a Carnegie Mellon doctoral student, has been quoted as saying. "The hope of getting out of poverty encourages people to continue to buy tickets, even though their chances of stumbling upon a life-changing windfall are nearly impossibly slim and buying lottery tickets in fact exacerbates the very poverty that purchasers are hoping to escape."

State lotteries have an average return of just 53 cents for every dollar spent on tickets, studies show.

This week's record Powerball set off a ticket-buying frenzy, reaching as high as 130,000 tickets sold per minute. One winning ticket each was sold in Missouri and Arizona.

Diana Chandler is Baptist Press' staff writer. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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