By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
RALEIGH — The new year will see more North Carolinians lured into gambling and fewer holding on to their hard-earned cash thanks to the Lottery Commission’s decision to introduce Mega Millions, a multi-state lottery with a jackpot that often climbs above $100 million.
“How clever! At a time of economic hardship, lottery officials capitalize on the struggle many have to keep their heads above water,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “The public should be prudent. Evil, rarely if ever, comes with horns and a tail. It comes in an appealing way, offering hope that only proves to be a mirage.”
Perhaps the only thing more outrageous than the jackpots of Mega Millions and Powerball, another multi-state lottery already offered in North Carolina, are the odds against winning: 195,249,054 to 1 for Powerball; 175,711,536 to 1 for Mega Millions.
Those odds don’t bode well, especially for the least affluent in our state, whom research shows are the ones most likely to depend on a lottery win to help bail them out. In fact, some 38 percent of low income respondents in a 2006 survey listed “win the lottery” as the most practical way for them to accumulate several hundred thousand dollars.
“A Mega Millions game just raises the stakes, stirring the spirit of covetousness, subjecting one as the Scriptures say, ‘to many sorrows,'” the Rev. Creech said.
Mega Millions, currently offered in a dozen states, will have drawings on Tuesday and Friday, joining those already held on Wednesday and Saturday for Powerball, with North Carolina lottery officials expecting an 18 to 25 percent increase in sales.
“Everybody’s always looking for ways to increase sales because they have to increase returns to their beneficiaries,” lottery director Tom Shaheen told the News and Observer.
But are those beneficiaries really benefiting is the question. Notwithstanding Gov. Bev Perdue’s highjacking $87.6 million in lottery profits earlier this year to help close the state budget gap, is the money going where it is supposed to go?
Since its inception in 2006, the so-called Education Lottery has raised more than $1.25 billion for programs for at-risk 4-year-olds, smaller class-size, school construction and collage scholarships. But to do that, the lottery had to take in nearly $4 billion.
“That’s $4 billion taken out of the state’s economy that could have generated millions in tax revenue and created jobs by supporting local industry,” wrote Chris Fitzsimon, executive director of N.C. Policy Watch in a recent analysis of “lottery fever.” “Instead the majority of the money went to an out-of-state lottery company and much of it came from the pockets of people in North Carolina who can ill-afford to throw money away at one in a million chance of getting rich.”
Fitzsimon pointed out that the N.C. Lottery, now with booths at county fairs and seasonal festivals, has no qualms about who it sells tickets to or where. He said games with prizes like Harley Davidson motorcycles are designed to target specific audiences. He further pointed to results of a recent South Carolina study that showed African-Americans accounted for almost 40 percent of frequent lottery players, twice the percentage of African-Americans in the S.C. population. Similarly, some 35 percent of callers to North Carolina’s Problem Gambling Help Line last year were African American. The minority makes up 21 percent of the Tar Heel population.
“We’re not suggesting that the N.C. Lottery pick and choose who can buy a ticket, but we don’t believe it is ethical to target — through advertising and even game design — those who are already most affected by gambling,” said the Rev. Creech, though he added that he doesn’t expect the trend to end.
“Just as the love of money is insatiable. so lottery officials will never stop pushing the envelope – they’ll never stop adding to the games,” he said. “We’re only just seeing the head of this monster.”
Just last month, the lottery introduced $20 scratch-offs and a new $5 instant game. Gamblers will likely be able to purchase their Mega Millions tickets by Jan. 31, 2001, according to the N.C. Lottery Web site. A nationwide lottery with even larger jackpots may be on tap by fall 2010.