The Coastal Packet: State lottery a big tax on the poor

Wednesday, October 21

State lottery a big tax on the poor

Pine Tree Watchdog - A study of the lottery by Cornell University, conducted at the request of the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting, shows that across the state, lottery ticket sales go up when people lose their jobs.

For every one percent increase in joblessness in a given zip code, sales of scratch and draw tickets jump 10 percent.

Among the investigation’s other findings:
  • Maine’s poorest towns spend as much as 200 times more per person than those in wealthier areas, according to the data. “You’re selling to people who are already desperate, or in tough financial circumstances,” said Cornell behavioral economist and professor Dr. David Just, who conducted the study. “By promoting the lottery, the state is, in some way, complicit in this.”
  • Since 2003, the state-run lottery has more than tripled its advertising budget, invested in sophisticated market research to better target new customers and installed flat-screen TVs in stores to encourage impulse buys, according to interviews and documents obtained by an open records request.
  • Because the lottery pays for itself, the legislature exerts virtually no oversight over the process. “They basically run their own business,” said state Rep. Louis Luchini, D-Ellsworth, co-chair of the committee that oversees the lottery.
  • Despite promoting the lottery over decades, the state has never studied its impact on the lives and finances of the poor and unemployed, who spend disproportionately on the lottery. State lottery and health officials interviewed said they had no data on addiction rates and had no plans or funding to gather it.
  • Total sales of lottery tickets – about $230 million – is more than what Mainers spend every year on liquor and also more than the revenue generated from Maine’s corporate income tax.

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