Posted by Ginny Blankenship on July 23rd 2009
Dear Mr. Passailaigue,
Welcome to Arkansas! I’m sorry everyone has been giving you such a hard time since you got to town. I mean, this salary issue is the least of my concerns. I think it's great that you're going to be pulling down that kind of money, because it shows that the state is so committed to getting more kids into college that it is willing to pay whatever it takes to those who make it happen—including teachers, principals, school counselors, school librarians, district and state support staff, etc. So kudos to you for getting that ball rolling! (By the way, did you know that Arkansas’s school districts have an average of one school counselor for every 311 students? I sure hope they can keep up with all of the students’ scholarship applications that will be coming in now.)
My real concerns are everything else that has happened in states that have implemented a lottery: First, you may not know that Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families (AACF) did a study last year estimating the amount of revenue that state-sponsored gambling would generate in Arkansas. Our figure was a bit off from yours, by about $38.5 million, probably because we did not compare Arkansas to other states with the most addictive (and lucrative) forms of government gambling, like video lottery terminals (VLTs). You see, long before you got here, lottery proponents promised Arkansas voters that they would never allow these things in our state.
Now that this promise appears well on its way to being broken (“monitor” games are only different from VLTs in semantics—the lottery industry has tried to sneak that one past voters here more than once), we're even more concerned about how the lottery is marketed and whom it is marketed to. Will kids be allowed or even encouraged to play, as is happening in many other states? As you may be aware, decades of research across the country have also shown that state lotteries are disproportionately targeted to and played by low-income and black communities. With over half of Arkansans classified as low-income (even more so in black communities), we’ve got enough problems with poverty and racial disparities to begin with. If the ultimate goal of the lottery is to increase our collective wealth by improving education in Arkansas, why risk preying on the half of the state who can least afford it?
In fact, why market it at all? Everyone who reads the newspaper already knows that they'll be able to buy tickets by the time football season is over. Local news will let us know as soon as the doors are open. Cutting out the ad man would save you a lot of money, too, since every other lottery state has had to spend about 70 percent of ticket sales on marketing, prizes, and administration to just to keep the thing running.
Here’s another potential cost-saver: Gambling addictions are already on the rise nationwide—especially among teenagers—driving people even deeper into poverty, bankruptcy, or government dependence. Meanwhile, our lottery’s lowest-paid support staff will make more money than our state's entire budget for gambling-related problems, which is currently $0. Some have suggested that part of the lottery proceeds should go toward such treatment programs, as more and more people will now inevitably become hooked on government-backed keno, online poker, or video games in nearly every restaurant and store in town. If we don’t exacerbate gambling problems by plastering ads across our beautiful state, that could save you some money, too.
Finally, in most states with a lottery, state funding for education has essentially been supplanted, and colleges have raised their tuitions so high and so fast that the value of students' lottery scholarships has been completely eroded. There also appears to be no correlation between states’ lottery ticket sales and their number of college graduates and good-paying jobs.
Just some things to think about. Fortunately, the state already has well over $50 million in unclaimed college scholarships in the bank, so we’re in no rush to get the lottery off the ground and can take our time in getting it right.
Thanks again for your service to the state. You can count on us to help you make sure that the lottery fulfills its intended purpose: reducing poverty and dramatically increasing the number of college graduates (not just attendees) in Arkansas for years to come.
Ginny Blankenship, Ed.D.
Research and Fiscal Policy Director