Reassessing the Texas Lottery–Is the juice worth the squeeze?

Texas Lottery LogoThe Austin-American Statesman is doing a series on the Texas Lottery. In part one, we learn that the lottery is selling fewer tickets to fewer people. In 1994 about 70% of Texans bought tickets. Today, that number is about 40%. Further, these fewer players appear to be spending more. In 2004, the average spending per player was about $390. That number is closer to $550 today. The fact that ticket sales seem to be highest among the poorest Texans id disturbing.

Waco Democratic Representative Jim Dunnam originally supported the lottery. After looking at the impact it’s had on his constituency, which has one of the highest poverty rates in the region, Dunnam wants to end the lottery saying: “The juice ain’t worth the squeeze anymore.”

The Statesman reports in part two of the series that the state’s shift to “scratch off” games has left the state collecting a smaller share. In 1998, $3 billion in sales translated into lottery contributed $1.16 billion for Texas’ public schools. In 2009, the schools got $160 million less even though sales totaled $700 million more than 1998.

Ironically, the Texas legislature has falling into the same “something for nothing” funding plan that drives people who can’t afford lottery tickets to buy them. Lots of people are arguing that it’s time we got the government out of the business of gambling and running ad encouraging the poor to squander their money. The question is: where will they find the money to replace the billion we make off the lottery every year.

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