TIM SKUBICK: What you should know about the lotto
So when citizens get a chance to question lawmakers, what question comes up most often?
(1) Why are my taxes so high?
(2) Where does the lottery money go?
(3) How much money do lobbyists give you each year?
(4) Do you support term limits?
(5) None of the above.
Stop reading and think about the answer before continuing to read. (Cue Jeopardy music here.)
The answer reveals that many citizens don’t pay much attention to what’s going on in Lansing. Because since 1972, citizens have asked the same question over and over again: Where does the lottery money go?
And once they find out that it goes to schools, their follow up question is, how come the schools don’t have enough money?
Because the harsh reality is the revenue the state raises from the lottery would pay for about one week of education for all the schools in Michigan. One lousy week. Or put another way, the state will never sell enough lottery tickets to pay for the billion dollar price tag on educating our kids.
Citizens also do not understand that there is a little slight of hand when it comes to lottery revenue. You might assume that when the state was spending “X” for the schools before the gambling was approved, it had “X plus” to spend after the lottery dough came rolling in.
Wrong. The lottery profits merely replaced what was already being spent so there was no massive increase. Some call it the ole shift-shaft and the poor schlub at home is none the wiser.
Hence the myth persists, that the lottery is the major source of school funding although state officials have explained for over 40 years that is not the case.
Citizens will likely pay attention, however, when and if the state begins to hawk lottery tickets over the Internet sometime late this year or early 2014.
Talk about your can of worms.
Instead of trekking to your local lottery store to pick up some smokes, booze and your Powerball ticket, you’ll be just a mouse click away from doing that from the comfort of your own home.
State lottery officials can hardly wait as visions of massive new profits, earmarked for the schools of course, dance in their wee little heads.
But the anti-gambling crowd will lament, as it did before the citizens approved the first lottery in 1972, that those who can least afford to play the game will be lured to spend even more with far-fetched hopes of striking it rich.
Then there are the current lottery vendors, many of whom depend on the game, to stay afloat. Like they need this kind of competition. Not.
State lottery officials are cognizant of the gripes and are supposedly taking steps to appease the local mom and pop stores. Those operators are being told that the new Internet gaming attracts a different player so they don’t have to worry.
Meanwhile back at the ranch, some lawmakers are making noises that the “expansion” of gambling is a lousy idea and are right now trying to kill it.
Sen. Rick Jones (R-Eaton County) introduced the bill recently after meeting with the lottery director Scott Bowen and his staff.
The senator was told that it is Mr. Bowen’s job to expand the lottery. To which the former sheriff turned senator noted, “Yeah, but I don’t have to endorse it.”
Not only is the senator concerned about the impact on the retails stores, but he was told that “young people like to do this on their phones. This is the new way.”
Well, that set him off. Instead of learning to save for an education or a new home, the senator frets the “young people” will gamble their lives away.
To no one’s surprise, the bar owners are in the senator’s corner, but he had only two co-sponsors on his proposal and no commitment from the senate GOP leader on blocking Internet gaming.
But Senator Jones and his house counterpart Rep. Kevin Kotter (R-Mt. Pleasant) have picked-up a politically savvy supporter. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette will fight with them to stop this Internet lottery before it multiplies.
Any bets on which side will win?
Tim Skubick is Michigan’s Senior Capitol correspondent and has anchored the weekly public TV series Off the Record since 1972. He also covers the Capitol and politics for WLNS-TV6 in Lansing.