Why State Governments Should Issue Lottery Tickets to People on Welfare
Religion & Liberty Online

Why State Governments Should Issue Lottery Tickets to People on Welfare

In a prime example of how irony is lost on politicians, lawmakers in North Carolina are proposing to prohibit people receiving welfare from playing in the lottery.

lotteryPerhaps the legislators aren’t aware of what state lotteries are, in effect if not intent, designed to do: redistribute the income of mostly poor Americans to a handful of other citizens—and to the state’s coffers.

Nevertheless, the lawmaker’s moral intuitions seem to be leading them to good intentions. As Rep. Paul Stam says, “We’re giving them welfare to help them live, and yet by selling them a ticket, we’re taking away their money that is there to provide them the barest of necessities.”

Okay, so maybe the irony isn’t lost on every politician.

You might be wondering how they could actually implement such a ban since it’s not obvious who is on welfare. According the Christian Post, at present the proposals seek to ban lottery ticket merchants if they “knowingly” sell a lottery ticket to someone on welfare. So the lawmakers are hoping that cashiers and sellers would be able to recognize locals who use food stamps, and therefore should refuse to sell lottery tickets to those people.

In other words the government wants to punish business owners for helping facilitate government sponsored gambling to people on the government dole.

I have a better idea—not a good idea, mind you, just a better idea that the punish-the-innocent approach that the government wants to take.

Here’s what state governments should do: Give lottery tickets to people on welfare.

As Jordan Ballor has pointed out, people who played the lottery with an income of less than $20,000 annually spent an average of $46 per month on lottery tickets. That comes out to more than $550 per year and it is nearly double the amount spent in any other income bracket.

Since the state government is giving money to people who turn around and give it back to the government in the form of lottery tickets, why doesn’t the government just give them some tickets? In other words, why not just issue $50 worth of lottery tickets each month to people on welfare?

You might be thinking that this idea is both terrible and idiotic. And you’d be right! But is it really more dumb and terrible than the silly charade that goes on now? At least it would spare business owners from having to play the role of Lottery Police.

More importantly, it would expose the idiotic process that is already occurring. It would reveal that if the government really cared about the poor they’d impose a ban on government-sponsored gambling rather than a welfare lottery ban.

Joe Carter

Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).