In the years and months prior to the General Assembly’s approval of a state lottery 10 years ago, opponents argued that the state-sponsored games would be contrary to North Carolina’s values.
One of the most prominent opponents was William Friday, president emeritus of the University of North Carolina. He said the lottery would prey on vulnerable people, on poor citizens hoping to fix their troubles with a jackpot.
Lottery proponents used every maneuver in the book to get the lottery passed. The proposal was signed into law on Aug. 31, 2005, a day after then-Lt. Gov. Bev Perdue broke a tie vote in the state Senate. With that, North Carolina became the last state on the East Coast to adopt a lottery.
Now, seeing more potential revenue in the lottery, state House and Senate negotiators are considering having lottery games for the Internet and smart phones. They’re also considering increasing advertising for the lottery.
Lottery sales have produced significant revenue. In the 2014-15 fiscal year, sales totaled nearly $2 billion – a record – and generated $522 million for education expenses. North Carolina Education Lottery revenue covers nearly one fifth of the state’s budget for K-12 education, but that influx has not stemmed the decline in what the state spends on a per-pupil basis.
Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam, an Apex Republican and long-time lottery foe, correctly says that the proposed changes would “make a bad situation worse” by “turning the lottery into a video poker machine.” Indeed, setting up Internet access in stores sounds like video poker, something GOP lawmakers and many others have rightly fought against.
One proposal would expand lottery sales outlets to include state-controlled, county-run ABC liquor stores. The idea would boost sales, but it would also compound the state’s involvement in tempting people to squander money they would be better off saving or spending elsewhere.
Ten years after approving a lottery with a divided conscience, North Carolina is weighing expanding games and advertising to lure more to spend more to bolster state revenue. It would be a tax hike on the desperate.
“This is a $30 million tax increase,” Stam says. “The Senate doesn’t recognize it as that. It’s a deceitful way to raise taxes.”
Expanding the lottery would attract more people who can’t really afford to gamble. Sure, some play for a little harmless fun. But most of us have been in stores where people who clearly had little to spare were spending $10, $25 or $50 a pop on the lottery.
Should we make it easier? No.