There are many reasons why I hate the Oregon Lottery, way too many to list. But if I had to pick one, it would be its seduction of otherwise right-thinking, progressive politicians into really bad public policy decisions. Like making Oregon dependent, if only partially, on gambling revenues to fund public services, including K-12 education.
Of course, Oregon is not alone in succumbing to the wiles and allures of the "easy money" temptress. According to the New York Times, 48 states have legalized some form of gambling. Gambling revenues "have become a critical stream of income in a number of states, in some cases surpassing traditional sources like the corporate income tax and helping states lower personal income or property taxes."
" 'We're drunk on gambling revenue,' said Representative Wayne A. Smith, the Republican who is House majority leader in the Delaware Legislature. 'Gambling revenues are like free money.' "
State lotteries are rigged games, meaning that over time the gambler always loses, in some cases huge sums of money that can lead to depression, theft, even suicide. The Oregon Lottery assuages its conscience by diverting one percent of its take to the treatment of problem gamblers. But it doesn't say anywhere on its website that if you play, you lose. Nor does it say that it pays bar and tavern owners a 29% commission for the privilege of allowing state owned and maintained video poker machines, by far the biggest money maker for the Lottery, on their premises.
The website doesn't announce the odds of winning or losing, either. That would be bad for business. But it doesn't take a math genius to figure it out from the data the Lottery does provide.
In 2004, video poker "sales" (the amount gamblers stuck into the machines) totaled $895 million. The Lottery returned to the state $364 million. Plus it paid the bars and taverns $131 million. And it kept $18 million (two percent) for administrative overhead. Add them up and divide by the $895 million in gross revenues, and you come up with a return to the gambler of .... 43%! In other words, for every dollar that goes into the machine, 43 cents is returned. What a deal!
In today's paper, the Lottery announced it may discontinue its Sports Action game in order to appease the NCAA, which won't allow national tournament games to be held in Oregon as long as the state sanctions betting on sports. You may think that's a step in the right direction. Maybe. But seeing as how Sports Action revenues amount to a paltry three percent of just video poker alone, one can conclude that the state has figured out that it's losing more than might be brought in if big collegiate events were allowed to be staged here.
In the meantime, corporate taxes in Oregon are expected to fall dramatically in the 2005 -07 biennium to just 4.1% of general fund revenues. Personal income taxes, which in Oregon are relatively flat (the rates, that is), will provide about 90% of general fund revenues. It seems to me with a little tweaking here and there, we should be able to do without the Lottery entirely.
Here's why I love spring time in Portland:
Yes, that's my garden, part of it anyway. And speaking of growing things,
the tallest Olson to date.
And here's another tall one: