Wednesday, October 13, 2004


I just read a scary article about what happened when they put in expanded gambling in Michigan. It was supposed to be ‘’for the kids.’’ You know: to help education. Gambling proceeds were forecast as providing so much for the public schools, there’d be new computers stacked to the moon, a staff-to-child ratio of 1:1, and tenderloin and Dove bars on those green cafeteria trays every lunch hour.


What really happened is that lottery proceeds now make up 4 percent of Michigan’s education tax burden. The overall burden is much, much higher than before gambling came in. So the net gain has been next to nothing, from the taxpayers’ point of view.

The vast majority of the educational funding still comes from local, state and federal taxes. And when you count all the social costs of expanded gambling that far exceed gambling revenue by an estimated 300 percent, the truth is, it didn’t add to education . . . it subtracted from it.

Michigan, like just about every other state in the union, including states with far more gambling than Nebraska has, is in a spending crunch right now. Like Nebraska, it doesn’t have enough money to cover its expenses . . . but gambling isn’t making things better there. It’s making them worse, especially on the citizens who are already having the hardest time getting ahead educationally and financially.

See the June 3, 2002, article, “State Lotteries Vs. Truth-in-Advertising’’ on www.mackinac.org/article.asp?ID=4379 and see if you don’t recognize that what happened there is bound to happen here, if casinos and thousands of slot machines are OK’ed by Nebraska voters on the Nov. 2 ballot.

But here’s what really scared me about the Michigan results:

The average player there spent $313 a year on lottery tickets. But those with an income of less than $10,000 a year spent far more -- an average of $597.

African-Americans spent an average of $998 per year, vs. a $210 yearly average by whites.

More than half the lottery tickets were bought by 5 percent of the players -- obvious evidence of compulsion there, ya think?

But here’s what really got me: high-school dropouts spent four times as much as college graduates.

So the people who have the least amount of money to lose are basically the ones losing the most.

Years ago, when they wanted to get a lottery into Nebraska, and succeeded, I was against it. It was because I had read a study about what happened in inner-city Baltimore when the lottery came in there. Gambling was supposed to be the Second Coming of Government Funding -- put in gambling and it’ll help our schools and be “for the kids.’’ An elaborate grants program was set up, like Nebraska’s.

Riiiiiiiiiight. What really happened is that most of the money came from the poorest Census tracts -- wagered away by those least likely to be able to afford it. And yet the vast majority of the grants went to suburban school districts, which were more likely to be savvy about grant-writing and have frills they wanted. Not needed, but wanted.

And now Baltimore public schools, despite this marvelous gambling boon, are in a world of hurt financially, and basically the district is falling apart.

See the regressive aspect of gambling? The “government as Robin Hood’’ character of it?

Casinos and slots would be just one more sack of rocks on the backs of Nebraska’s lower-income people, the very ones who need to be providing good homes and help with college for their kids, not frittering away their cash into slot machines.

Can you really feel good about getting yet another computer in your suburban school from gambling proceeds, knowing that it came out of the hides of the poor, pretty much?

I’m betting the Nov. 2 gambling measures will fail, for one simple reason:

We don’t have anywhere near enough high-school dropouts in this state to buy the idea that gambling is good, thank God. The vast majority of our people are smarter than that. Let’s hope those smarts translate to the polls, or what happened in other states is going to repeat itself, and that’s tragic . . . ‘’for the kids.’’

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