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Sin Spinning, Government Style

Despite a sinking (some might say stinking) economy, sales of lottery tickets are up in North Carolina. While listening to North Carolina Public Radio, I heard chief hustler Tom Shaheen credit the improved sales to the bigger prizes being offered.

He didn’t mention how he managed to scrap lawmakers’ initial promise that at least 35 percent of proceeds would go to education. Shaheen praised the increased sales with the glowing promise that the lottery could provide more money for education.

Here’s a more accurate translation: sales are up because the temptation is greater and the people most susceptible to temptation are increasingly desperate. Thus, the state manages to fleece its most financially marginal citizens to put more dollars in the education kitty, relieving its more prosperous population of footing the full education bill through an incremental rise in taxes.

Careful studies as well as common sense and simple observation make it clear that the poor play the lottery more, and spend a far greater proportion of their income, than do wealthier people.

North Carolina is not the only state to play such political tax-reduction games, of course. Indeed, it was the last state on the Eastern Seaboard to adopt state-sponsored gambling as a revenue raiser, and it took underhanded, sleazy shenanigans to get it passed then. Most of the states use “education” as a catch-word to try making the lottery more palatable, with the same success one might get for spraying air-freshener on a hog lagoon.

Whether one considers gambling to be a sin is not the primary issue here: when state government knowingly tempts its most desperate people to spend their family’s grocery money on lottery tickets, ethics have simply gone out the window.

And, while we’re talking about money, did I mention that the new budget gives the lottery director Shaheen a salary of $246,000–75 percent more than the governor? We not only support state-sponsored exploitation, but we pay through the nose to do it.

I hope mine is not the only nose to detect something rotten in the state of scratch-offs, Pick3 and Powerball.

Tony Cartledge is associate professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School and a contributing editor to Baptists Today.