With much fanfare, the Idaho Lottery observed its 30th anniversary last month, but is the occasion really worth celebrating?
Proponents of the Idaho Lottery trumpet the dividends it pays to Idaho K-12 public schools, which totaled $18.6 million in 2018. Yet that accounts for only 1.1 percent of the total state spending for K-12 public schools for the same year. Not exactly the windfall gain for public schools that supporters of the lottery make it out to be.
In truth, the Idaho Lottery creates victims and drains our economy. Gambling is accompanied by a host of social problems often exceeding any alleged benefits.
Most lottery tickets are purchased by the poorest Idahoans who can least afford it. A study conducted by Duke University researchers found that households making less than $25,000 annually spend more than double as much on lottery tickets as households with an annual income of more than $100,000. Researchers have also “found that the poorest third of households bought more than half of all weekly lottery tickets sold.”
Low-income lottery participants often redirect their spending from essential items (housing, food, education, and transportation) to purchasing lottery tickets. Despite the near impossible odds of winning it big, many of them see gaming as a ticket out of their financial difficulties, and the consequences of their gambling place an inordinate strain on their marriages and children.
While the state lottery brings in a negligible amount of funding for public schools and other government programs, it functions as a regressive tax on the poorest people in our state and discourages economically productive and socially beneficial behavior. As with most government schemes to wrest more dollars from the public, the problems caused by the lottery far outweigh any overstated benefits.
Through its lottery, the State of Idaho encourages poor financial decisions and behaviors that negatively affect families and communities. Certainly we shouldn’t be celebrating that.