Two things up front about the Georgia Lottery.
One is that it exists as a tax on those believed to pay no taxes. It’s a consumption tax levied on the unsophisticated. It’s the rent they pay for government.
The second observation about the Georgia Lottery is that its beneficiaries are the middle class, the families that once socked away a few dollars each week to pay for the college expenses of newborn babies.
It was one generation’s investment in the next.
I’ve never been a fan for two reasons.
One is that it tempts the poor to engage in behaviors that are harmful to their families.
The second is that it tempts the middle class to engage in behaviors that are harmful to their families.
With the poor, the temptation is to take money they can’t afford to lose and put it in an investment with odds against them of 175 million to one.
A woman without a job for six months and, as the AJC’s Bill Torpy reported last month, with “a car note and mortgage nipping at her heels,” stops at an Atlanta convenience store to buy $10 Extreme Green scratch-offs, spending about $100 a week.
People are entitled to spend their money any way they see fit, and desperate people see enough oversized checks with big numbers in lottery-winner photo ops to convince them that dire circumstances warrant such Hail Mary “investments.”
And yet, while we can gin up our rawest and most virulent indignation at “predatory lenders” who put the working poor in mortgages that they can’t afford, we think nothing ill of a state-owned enterprise that does something worse.
And why? Because we are beneficiaries of the loot taken from the poor. The big bonuses are not going to securities traders, but to the middle class in the form of HOPE stipends.
The lottery has changed, for the worse, the habits of the middle class, too. Before it was created in 1993, the middle class knew that individual family sacrifice was necessary to fund the burden that college represented. Immediate pleasures — a meal out, a newer car — were put off to set aside money for a distant expense.
In taking money from Mom and Dad, there were faces and known sacrifices connected to the tuition money.
Then came the Georgia Lottery.
The Athens Banner-Herald’s Lee Shearer quizzed students at the University of Georgia for a weekend story noting that by 2011, gambling revenues may be inadequate to fund all HOPE expenses.
They could, egads, be forced to turn to their own resources — a part-time job or family savings — to pay part or all of the $300 book allowance and, if things get worse, they could lose the money that goes to cover mandatory fees.
Since 1999-2000, the cost of the program has grown from $207 million to $500 million.
When asked how much HOPE paid for their education, students had no clue. The amount is not shown on their tab.
It is an entitlement, like welfare or Medicaid, without connection between those who sacrifice and those who benefit.
The Georgia Lottery Corp. board meets Thursday. It is under pressure to permit casino gambling in Underground Atlanta so that the middle class will not be forced to make choices between a vacation and their offspring’s college expenses.
The poor and the addicted are getting tapped out on the old scratch-offs and Mega Millions. Underground operators are counting on the middle class to ride to their rescue.
The board doesn’t have Underground on their agenda. But they should now, this week, call the question: Will Georgia open its doors to casino gambling?