Sadly, the state of Idaho seems to be on the verge of repeating a big blunder.
The blunder was initiated in 1986 when voters decided to add Idaho to the list of states that use lotteries to raise government revenue. Though the plan was subsequently voided in the courts on technical grounds, the lottery proposal is coming back again. In fact, state officials are trying to give it a head start.A few days ago, Gov. Cecil Andrus signed into law a bill setting up a five-member lottery commission and a director to run the game if voters approve an amendment next fall lifting the Idaho constitution's ban on state lotteries.
The persistence of this proposal represents the triumph of hope over experience.
For openers, a 1986 study by a Boise State University economists indicates that a lottery understandably wouldn't raise nearly as much money in a state as small as Idaho as it does in some large states where most of the people live in a few big cities.
Then there's the study by a law enforcement professor at Weber State College in Utah, a study which concludes that state control does not necessarily guarantee a fair and honest gambling operation. In fact, the study adds, states that turn to gambling as a way to collect taxes issue an open invitation to organized crime.
What's more, a lottery is more expensive to administer than, say, a simple sales tax. In other words, a lottery diverts money from more effective and productive efforts to raise revenue.
Lotteries hurt a state's economy in other ways, too. Lotteries are parasitic because they create no economic goods and no real wealth. Instead, they discourage thrift, encourage compulsive gambling, increase welfare and law enforcement costs, and are particularly hard on the poor, who can ill afford to waste their money on the flimsy dreams of wealth the politicians dangle before them. Yet the people who can least afford it are the very ones who buy the most lottery tickets.
Consider, too, the lottery's impact on young people. As TV commentator Andy Rooney has put it:
"How can we teach kids that hard work is the way to success if they hear radio commercials paid for by their government suggesting that the way to get rich is to bet on a number?"
Yes, plenty of other states have lotteries. But can't Idaho learn from others' mistakes instead of just repeating them?