By Dugald McConnell and Brian Todd, CNN
updated 12:06 PM EDT
(CNN) — The NAACP chapter in Dallas is calling for an end to the Texas state lottery, saying the game drains the finances of low-income ticket-buyers who can least afford it, especially minorities.
“It’s an addiction,” chapter President Juanita Wallace said. “Many, many people have actually spent all their money in hope of getting out of a situation, when in fact, they’re getting themselves into a worse situation.” She said one man she knew died last week without health insurance. “He had an insurance policy,” she said, “and he withdrew all of the funds from the policy, actually, to play the lottery.”
Wallace also believes that minorities are disproportionately drawn to playing the lottery. “The way things are set up in the store is targeted for black people and poor people,” she said. A spokeswoman with the Texas Lottery Commission rejected that assertion, saying the Texas lottery does not target low-income areas specifically and does not market any differently from one demographic to another.
“Our marketing and advertising efforts are designed to reach a broad audience of adult Texans,” spokeswoman Kelly Cripe said. Wallace says her NAACP chapter is already lobbying lawmakers, as are organizations like the Baptist General Convention of Texas that were already opposed to the lottery.
But at a convenience store in Dallas this week, some ticket-buyers did not appreciate the idea of losing the option of playing. “It’s up to me,” David Anderson told CNN affiliate station KTVT as he stood in line. “If I make a certain amount, it’s up to me: Should I spend this $5 (on a ticket)? Or should I go buy a loaf of bread and hamburger to feed the kids?”
Professor Irwin Morris of the University of Maryland says low-income people are more likely to play the lottery, not necessarily because they are targeted but because they have more to gain. “It’s an opportunity to change your living circumstances,” he said. “So for someone who’s already wealthy, it would take a dramatic lottery win — a Lotto, let’s say — to significantly change their living circumstances. If someone is of much more meager means, a much smaller win could literally change the character of their living circumstances.” As a result, he said, “I think there is considerable evidence that the poor pay a greater portion of their income on lotteries than the wealthy.”
Statistics show that for the Pick 3 lottery in Texas, a third of people who make less than $20,000 play, but only about a quarter or fewer of people making more than $20,000 do. And for instant scratch-off tickets, the most popular game, unemployed people were more likely to play than employed people or retirees. Wallace says that means the people who can least afford it are the most likely to splurge.
Lottery players point out that the games are fun to play, and they offer the hope of winning life-altering riches. The ticket sales also raise substantial revenues for state coffers. “Since the first ticket was sold in 1992, the Texas Lottery has generated $20 billion in revenue for the state,” Cripe said, “and contributed more than $14 billion to the Foundation School Fund. These are not insignificant numbers.”
Morris said he has not seen evidence that states with lotteries spend more on schools than states without. But now that states have come to rely on those revenues, he said, it would be difficult for a state to pull the plug on its lottery. “If that were eliminated,” he said, “how difficult would it be politically to come up with the same amount of revenue through other taxes or fees?”
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