Statewide lottery could help solve some problems

August 15, 2014 chris
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Back when Gov. Robert Bentley was campaigning in 2010, he made some bold statements. Statements such as, “I believe the people of Alabama need to decide at the ballot box on a YES or NO vote whether to allow gambling or abolish all forms of gambling.”

And Gov. Bentley and I were 100 percent in agreement. I firmly believe that we should let the people of Alabama decide the fate of a state lottery. This is something I’ve always believed – you can never go wrong when you trust the voters and let the people settle these kinds of issues.

We have been debating a state lottery in Alabama for decades. But Alabamians have still not actually had a chance to vote on the issue since 1999. Fifteen years is a long time. Too long of a time for an issue such as this to go without seeing another vote, especially considering the success neighboring states have had with a lottery as means to fund education.

Gov. Bentley currently has a proposal on the table to take money out of the education budget to fund tax breaks for out-of-state businesses. Instead of trying to grow out-of-state businesses, we should be looking to invest more into our school system. The last thing our schools need is less money. But with Gov. Bentley’s newest proposal, that’s exactly what would happen. And it would open the door to more and more raids on our school funding to prop up the general fund budget.

Instead, I believe we should be looking at a state lottery to help give our schools the revenue boost they desperately need. A state lottery could generate as much as $250 million a year for the state’s school systems, according to a report provided by the Legislative Fiscal Office during last year’s legislative session. In turn, that money could be used to fund scholarships for college or vocational training, increase funding for pre-k programs or meeting other financial needs within our schools.

And $250 million could be a low estimate! If you consider that, according to the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries, individual states got to keep a total of $19.4 billion out of $68.8 billion in nationwide lottery sales in 2012, then it is possible our estimates could be on the low end. And those figures are just for the Powerball and Mega Millions. They do not include scratch-offs or local lotteries.

But whatever the end amount may be, the thing to remember is that it’s essentially already available. It would require no additional taxes or tax increases, and would not shortchange other parts of the state’s various programs. This is because we are already spending that money on the lottery. We are just playing it in different states.

Every year, a large number of Alabamians travel to Tennessee, Georgia and Florida to play the lottery. Whether it be in the form of instant games like small dollar scratch-off tickets or in the bigger dollar amounts like Mega Millions and Power Ball jackpots, Alabamians are playing the lottery. It’s not a question of if, but where.

By playing the games in other states, we are taking our money and helping to fund neighboring states education programs like the Hope scholarship in Georgia: a program that helps Georgia high school students pay for college if they maintain a certain grade point average. But if Alabama had a state lottery, players would be reinvesting that money into our schools and students here at home.

I certainly understand why some people have moral objections to the lottery. And I don’t think you will find a single supporter of the lottery who will tell you they think it’s okay for a person to spend their family’s money on gambling. But by refusing to have a state lottery, we are not stopping or even slowing down gambling in Alabama. All we are doing is exporting our gamblers to other states and giving our money to those states to help pay for the betterment of their children’s education instead of our own children’s education.

It’s time for state leaders to listen to the voters and keep their promises to let the people – not the politicians – decide the fate of a lottery.