October 14, 2005

Qualms Over Oklahoma's Lottery?

Earlier this week, Oklahoma became the 41st state to implement a lottery. The Daily Oklahoman holds their nose and starts counting the money here, while correctly noting that there are some pretty fundamental ethical concerns about a tax that not only preys upon a vice but encourages it.

We've said plenty about why lotteries are a bad policy choice for states here in the past. There are a couple of interesting twists in Oklahoma worth mentioning, though:

1) It's nice to see lottery administrators tearing their hair out a little bit about the ethical problems involved. They've apparently agreed that it would be unseemly to allow lottery sales in pawn shops and payday loan shops. The Lottery Commission chair pats himself on the back for this decision here.
The admission that there is something, well, unethical about allowing pawnshops to sell lottery tickets is much like Senator Chuck Grassley's admission that estate tax repeal would be "unseemly" in the wake of Hurricane Katrina's devastation. In both cases, folks who are pushing a fiscal policy change that many opponents consider unethical are essentially agreeing that their opponents are right-- while continuing to insist that the policy change should go through.

2) A TV news clip linked in today's Oklahoman breathlessly interviews hordes of Arkansans flooding across the border to take advantage of new gambling frontiers in Oklahoma. (Arkansas is one of the few states that still don't have a lottery.) This may be a rah-rah thing, or may just be part of the endless search by local newscasters for human interest stories, but seems pretty irresponsible that the news guys went to the trouble of filming one of these pilgrims actually winning some money. And while they may see it as their civic duty to encourage people to take part in the lottery, it sure feels gross to me.

Postscript: Didn't notice the first time through that the end of this clip actually tells viewers that they can go to the news channel's website to find locations at which they can gamble. Even grosser.