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Fool's Gold

The Top Ten reasons why a Tennessee lottery is a bad idea.

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1. Lotteries are a sucker game. In a typical state lottery you have to guess six two-digit numbers out of a possible 49. None of the six numbers is used more than once and you must guess the winning numbers in correct order. The odds of hitting the jackpot in this system are one in 14 million.

You are three times more likely to be killed in an auto accident on the way to buy a lottery ticket than you are to win the jackpot.

Fran Lebowitz quips, "As I figure it, you have the same chance of winning the lottery whether you play it or not." Or as John Warren Kindt says in his book Gambling, "The only way to win is to never buy a ticket."

2. The state of Tennessee will need to use blatantly false advertising to lure you in. The Publisher's Clearinghouse contest is required by law to publish your odds of winning. The lottery is exempt from this requirement. If lotteries made plain your odds of winning, the game would be over.

3. The state will waste an obscene amount of the revenue collected from the lottery on advertising. The Washington Post calls lottery ads "the foulest of gambling lures. And they lure the poorest and most vulnerable among us through publicly sponsored, shamelessly misleading advertising."

4. A lottery is a regressive tax. During the first year of the Georgia lottery, the lottery sold $249 worth of tickets per resident in ZIP codes with average household incomes below $20,000, compared with $97 in ZIP codes with incomes exceeding $40,000. Per-capita ticket sales were also twice as high in minority areas compared with white areas.

5. Lower-income people will pay for the education of wealthier people. Georgia's HOPE scholarship program mostly provides scholarships to students from middle- and upper-class families. Of the 16,376 students who received HOPE scholarships for the 1994-95 academic year, the average family income was $44,876 while the average state income was $32,359.

By requiring students to apply for a battery of federal grants and scholarships, poor and minority students are diverted into Pell grants. They receive a $150 book allowance per semester from HOPE while wealthier students receive the bulk of the HOPE money.

6. A lottery will not solve Tennessee's revenue problems. After payouts and advertising, a lottery typically provides 1 to 3 percent of a state's revenue. It will be two years before the lottery referendum is held and another year before the lottery is up and running. Meanwhile, Tennessee will sink deeper into the hole. A lottery creates few jobs and no useful product. Compulsive gambling will create a host of social problems, which the state will pay for in the long run.

7. A lottery will not make Tennessee's tax system any fairer. A lottery is a diversionary tactic that our legislators are using to keep from reforming our antiquated, unfair tax structure.

8. Tennessee is late getting into the lottery game. Lottery revenue has peaked in many states and is dropping off. Virginia has had a lottery for 10 years and is now hundreds of millions of dollars in the hole. How long will it take for Tennesseans to catch on to the sucker game and stop playing? Lotteries are one of the most unstable sources of revenue.

9. The state will decrease the general revenue for education by the amount the lottery makes. Educational spending tends to decline once a state puts a lottery into operation. According to one study, states without lotteries maintained and increased their educational spending more than states with lotteries.

10. The state of Tennessee has a social contract with its citizens to protect them from fraud. This contract is null and void when it comes to lotteries.

Nell Levin is a social activist living in Nashville.

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