How far have the people of Idaho come during the past two years in terms of learning that there's no easy, painless way to raise state revenue?
That question will be answered Nov. 8 when the Gem State's voters cast their ballots on a constitutioinal amendment authorizing a state lottery.Though Idahoans overwhelmingly approved a lottery in 1986, the scheme was subsequently voided in the courts on technical grounds. Now a new proposition is on the ballot.
By now, Idahoans must be well-aware of the arguments for and against the lottery. No doubt many voters are impressed by the fact that 28 states and the District of Columbia operate lotteries. Residents of the western and northern parts of Idaho are said to be particularly susceptible to claims that the state is losing money to lotteries in neighboring Oregon and Washington.
But just try telling that to Sen. Dave Durenberger of Minnesota, chairman of a U.S. Senate committee that held hearings four years ago on the conduct of state lotteries. His conclusion:
"You can't run a successful lottery by telling the whole truth. You need hard-sell promotion, often vague and misleading about the odds and the prizes. That enterprise of parting the sucker from his dollar is questionable enough in the free marketplace; it's no business for a state or federal government whose purpose is to serve and protect the people."
Just try telling it to the law enforcement professor at Weber State College in Utah, whose study concludes that state control does not guarantee an honest operation and that using gambling as a way to raise state revenue is an open invitation to organized crime.
Or try telling it to just about anyone who realizes that a lottery puts a state in the position of saying: "The more our citizens bet and lose, the better off the state is."
That's far from all that is wrong with a lottery. A lottery is:
- More expensive to administer than, say, a simple sales tax - which means it diverts money from more effective and productive ways to raise revenue.
- Hits particularly hard those who can least afford it - namely, the poor, who can't afford to throw away their money on dreams of instant wealth.
- Increases welfare and law enforcement costs, discourages thrift, and encourages compulsive gambling.
No wonder that no education organization in Idaho has come out in favor of a state lottery even though a lottery is supposed to benefit the schools.
No wonder that a survey of school superintendents in California shows that most of them feel that state's lottery has a negative impact on the character of school children.
Indeed, the same survey also shows 87 percent of the California superintendents consider the lottery an unreliable source of revenue and 95 percent of them say the lottery has decreased legislative support for more traditional types of education funding.
All things considered, the proposed state lottery might more accurately be called a "lootery." Idahoans would do themselves a favor by rejecting this effort to exploit them.