Mark Winston Griffith
Scratch-off Lottery Tickets: The Next Economic Justice Frontier?
Everyone standing on line in front of me at the Fulton Street Bravo Supermarket in Bedford-Stuyvesant had at least a dollar and a dream. I had arguably less, but all I needed was 30 seconds to buy a small can of baby formula. Unfortunately, each of the five customers in front of me, both young and old alike, was spending the same amount of time and consideration to select a colorful array of scratch-off lottery tickets as someone would use to choose an Easter Day wardrobe.
Just another day of wealth redistribution in the hood.
When money is too tight to mention, it's easy to understand why some people would sink parts of their hard earned hopes and income into colorful cards that offer the possibility of a tidy payday. An article in the December 27 edition of the New York Times reports on how careful demographic tracking of lottery spending in Texas revealed what many have long suspected: That the poor disproportionately pay more for lottery tickets, with scratch-off games being the gambling drug of choice. As reported in the Times piece, “'Scratch-off tickets are to the lottery what crack is to cocaine,' said State Senator Eliot Shapleigh, a Democrat who represents El Paso."
Tucked inside this article is an important advocacy lesson. "Unlike most states, Texas is required by law to provide detailed demographic information on lottery participation...In 2006, according to a University of North Texas survey commissioned by state lottery officials, the typical black player spent $70 a month on the lottery, compared with $47 for Hispanics and $20 for whites...The demographic differences were especially sharp when it came to scratch-offs. Players with a high school degree or less typically buy $20 a month worth of scratch-off tickets, compared with $10 for college graduates. Similarly, players with an annual income of less than $12,000 spent 33 percent more a month than those with incomes above $100,000."
Just as demographic information on mortgage lending has helped identify discriminatory lending practices, so too can more detailed demographic information on lottery and scratch-off game usage help the public better understand the impact that this form of gambling is having on communities. It is a policy alternative that some economic justice advocates and legislators in states across the country may want to consider.