Casey on the Texas Lottery

Thursday, February 22, 2007

In this Sunday's Houston Chronicle, I read a column by Rick Casey titled, "The Moral Reason Not to Sell the Lottery", in which its author attacks a plan for Texas to sell off its state lottery because private industry would run it -- get this -- too effectively! After complaining that the state would not sufficiently regulate the buyer, he ends his column in this way:

So should we sell the lottery?

The only argument that makes sense is to do so because the private sector will run it more competently.

And that is the best argument against it.
Before you accuse me of quoting Casey out of context to make him look foolish (since he must have a good reason to fear a "more competently"-run lottery), let me assure you I would actually be helping Casey look better than he deserves by leaving it at that.

Why? Because his rationale for objecting to a privately-run lottery, aside from its blatant (and incorrect) assumption that capitalism is predatory by nature, is based on the fact that a lottery is what many often call an "idiot tax".
The lottery ... preys on the ignorant.

The Texas lottery's own most recent survey proves the point.

The median amount spent by those with a high school diploma was $39 a month. Those with some college: $26. Those with a college degree: $20.

Those with a graduate degree: $12 a month.

The reason they reported median amounts (the figure reported spent by the middle person in each category) is that averages would be even uglier.

A previous report showed high school dropouts spending an average of $173 a month and those with a college degree $49.

The difference is, highly educated people know they don't have much of a chance of winning. They're buying a token number of tickets for the pleasure of an enriched fantasy life until the 10:12 p.m. drawing.

Low-income people with no math skills see the lottery as their only way out of poverty, and bet more than they can afford in desperation.

They want something for next to nothing, but then so do we higher-income taxpayers who abide a system that bilks the desperate poor because we don't want to pay full freight for the services we expect from the state. [bold added]
Notice that the smug, presumably "highly educated","higher-income taxpayer" Casey objects to improving the efficiency of a funding mechanism for the state's education system because it preys on "the ignorant" -- the vast majority of whom are doubtless in their current predicaments at least in part because they received poor educations -- courtesy of deficient educational "services ... from the state".

Notice also that Casey never once questions the presumed infallibility of the state -- except when it allows private individuals to take control of anything away from it. The state should regulate industry, protect "the ignorant" from making foolish choices, and force people to pay for its tender mercies rather than leaving whether to pay and how much up to the individual.

And speaking of tender mercies, Lisa VanDamme has an earful on what our government is forcing us to pay for -- something Casey fully supports -- under the misleading label of "education":
Perhaps the best thing that could happen to America would be the abolition of the Department of Education and government schools. Free market competition in education would allow Classical Education to compete better against Progressive Education and within years the empirical evidence would compel any responsible parent to avoid Progressive Education as if it were a disease.

But just as we pay $20 billion a year for a Department of Agriculture that stifles competition and erects regulations that give us food of less quality for more money, we pay the Department of Education $65.7 billion a year to dumb down America. $65.7 billion a year to cripple minds! [bold added]
$65.7 billion a year -- at the federal level alone -- is a lot of money to waste on a system that has proven to be disastrous in terms that even Rick Casey should be able to understand!

And yet, despite all this, Casey complains not about how poor our educational system is, despite the fact it is far more expensive than many better systems around the world, nor does he even bother to ask why we are planning to shovel even more money into its insatiable maw. No. Casey could complain about these things, but instead, he focuses on the fact that some of our schools' worst victims might be free to make a choice -- a choice that system has made them ill-equipped to make! Except that Casey never says anything about why so many people are so "ignorant"!

Rather than complaining that greater personal freedom might make "the ignorant" more able to choose foolishly, Casey would do far more good using his regular column to point out what less freedom -- in the form of mandatory public education funded with stolen money -- forces everyone to endure.

It is tempting to call Casey's "defense" of the less-educated ironic since he himself seems so ignorant about the role of big government in ruining generations of young minds, but for the fact that he is clearly someone who should know better and probably does. And yet there is not one peep from him about abolishing the public schools -- and with them, the need for high taxes or a huge state lottery.

This column struck me first as ironic, but a more accurate label would be despicable. An enemy of freedom is no friend of the poor, or of anyone else for that matter.

-- CAV


Today: Corrected a typo.


Mike N said...

woumuWe are having the same debate in Michigan. Gov. Jennifer Granholm was considering selling the state lottery. The numbers involved are staggering. Last year the lottery had 2.2 billion dollars in ticket sales. $688 million went to Michigan schools. The remainder was paid out in prizes and overhead. The state expects to get $10 billion over the next 75 years and hopes to invest it and get about $750 milion a year in return which I suppose would make up for the missing $688m that went to schools.

I have no clue if these numbers are even realistic. But the number that took me by surprise is the fact that the $688 million that went to schools is only 5% of the state school budget. That means the total school budget is $13,760,000,000 per year. That seems like way too much for a school system in one state.

Gus Van Horn said...

Hmmm. That does sound like a huge number, but consider something else.

It would be interesting to look at how much such lotteries bring in and compare that number (minus administrative costs) with that part of the state budget that is a legitimate part of government, keeping in mind that even that number will be high due to such malfeasances as Blue Laws, the "war on drugs", and business regulation. I would hardly be surprised if lottery earnings were a significant portion of that amount.

(I haven't time to check this at the moment, but if you or someone else does, I'd love to hear back.)

Blair said...

The one reason I oppose lotteries right now is that they are used by statist politicians to pour those funds down the sewer of more welfare statist policies, including education, which is getting worse by the minute. Obviously, I favor a lottery system as a voluntary tax, paid by anyone who wants to buy a ticket, but not until we have a fully free society.

Gus Van Horn said...

I can't argue with you there.

Although a lottery would be an acceptable way for the government to raise funds in a truly capitalist society, it is important for advocates of capitalism to be clear that lotteries are acceptable only for funding a proper government or perhaps as a transitional measure during a move to a smaller state.

In this case, the lottery is being used to fund a government near-monopoly of the educational sector which is not being dismantled. As such it is unacceptable, despite its quasi-capitalist appearance.

Thanks for bringing that up.

OregonGuy said...


Using a tax on the simple-minded is not a way to raise the water for all boats.

There is a reason why society outlawed gambling by private parties in most states. (Like 49 out of 50, previous to "state lotteries".)

Ten years after the Class of '74, the Oregon Legislature was able to push into law the Oregon Lottery.

We've been sick ever since. Privatizing may make things well again. After all, gambling was private--although illegal--before the State Lottery Commission was established.

Good luck.

Gus Van Horn said...


A few things....

(1) A lottery -- even in incarnations like those seen on Texas and Oregon -- is not a tax.

(2) Taxation, the legal taking of money from private citizen by the government, is a violation of individual rights and as such is a great way to "raise the water" IN "all boats", which is why I oppose it in the same way I would slavery, of which it is a form.

(3) How has gambling made the entire populace of Oregon "sick"?

(4) If gambling were made illegal for a "reason", please state it. If this reason is not the protection of individual rights, however, it is a poor reason.

Good day.