I’ve been intrigued by the ongoing discussion about a state education lottery. In a completely unscientific poll, AL.com readers seem to overwhelmingly support this. Among the loudest critics are folks that I agree with on eight out of 10 issues, but not this one; at least not for the reasons they are citing.
Conservatives against the lottery note that this is essentially a regressive tax that harms the poor and favors the rich.
I can boil my problem on these commonly cited problems into four points:
1) It is hypocritical to say that you’re for personal responsibility and limited government, except when it comes to gaming. Either people have the ability to police themselves and their own behavior or they don’t.
2) Conservatives often use the argument that liberals or progressives talk down to and underestimate poor and minority populations. An example of this would be by questioning their ability to get identification cards for voting. These same conservative groups are now saying that it is the poor and minority populations who need to be saved from themselves and their inability to act responsibly. (Side note: You need an ID to prove you’re over 18 and to buy a lottery ticket so can we say this may increase voter turnout?)
3) You can’t legislate morality. If the issue at hand is your personal belief that gambling is sinful, then don’t participate. (For the purposes of a simple single topic post I’m not arguing for or against that premise). People who want to gamble will find a way to do so with or without a state lottery.
4) Being anti-lottery is the anti-free market position. As long as people can cross state lines to get tickets for big jackpots, play online poker, and visit existing pari-mutuel facilities stopping a lottery accomplishes little. Prohibiting a state lottery isn’t ending gaming, it’s just giving preferential treatment to existing gaming options.
If an argument was made that state-run lotteries are not conservative because the state shouldn’t compete with what the private sector could do, I’d cede that point. If an argument was made that state-run lotteries that it’s not a vital function of the government, I’d cede that point. Then we could have different discussions.
Those aren’t the arguments being made against lotteries and those arguments aren’t consistent with the ideals of limited government and personal responsibility.
Apryl Marie Fogel is a new Alabama resident who works as a conservative political activist.