Concerning State Lotteries Part 2: The Sabans
Tuesday, September 15, 2009 12:44:25 AM
Fresh off the heels of my recent post about a state lottery, my mom recently gave me a magazine that The Montgomery Advertiser published called Coaches Confidential. It gives a brief biography of four of Alabama's collegiate head coaches: Larry Blakeney (Troy), Reggie Barlow (Alabama St.), Gene Chizik (Auburn), and Nick Saban (Alabama).
The last bit of the Saban bio is an article by Tim Gayle about how the Sabans support a state lottery for funding higher education. I can't find the text online, so I'm going to transcribe it myself below. I think it's interesting because Saban's wife Terry brings up a good point I had not made before about how a lot of Alabamians could theoretically get behind a state lottery, but didn't the last time it came up for a vote because of how the proposed law was ambiguously worded and how little of the proceeds would have been directed towards education. There are also some positive notes about the Louisiana and Georgia state lotteries.
I understand that all lotteries are not created equally. But the question I have is this: Are they divided into good and bad lotteries, or are there some lotteries which are just less bad than others? I'm not an expert, of course, so I can't really say for sure. But the one thing that bugged me about Terry Saban's argument for an Alabama state lottery is her omission of the facts I outlined in my previous post: that it's the lowest economic class of people who are spending the most amount of money on lottery tickets, and that lottery is a form of gambling, which can lead to some pretty heavy addiction.
The subject of the Sabans and the lottery is not new. The Capstone Report tackled it a couple of years ago, and he takes the same position as I do, that a lottery is a regressive tax on the poor. "It is the poor folks hopelessly lost in a cycle of poverty who take money from their own pockets to fund the educations of the middle class." I had this exact thought when Cayla brought up the Georgia HOPE program, but I didn't bring it up because I don't have any data on it. It would be interesting to know how economically depressed the majority of the HOPE scholarship recipients are and compare it to the group who buys the majority of lottery tickets.
After reading the article, I'm still not convinced a state lottery is a good idea. But I'd like to enter it into the record for consideration anyway.
by Tim Gayle
Terry and Nick Saban have made a habit out of helping kids. They believe one of the best ways to help kids in this state is to provide a state-funded lottery that can provide a free or cost efficient college education to deserving people who otherwise can't afford that opportunity.
"I think it's a shame we have so many deserving young people in our state who deserve a higher education, who would like to go to college and can't afford it, who have the grades to go to college but not the means," Terry said. "We have thousands of those people sitting at home who should be in school."
Nick Saban has mentioned the lottery before, but the Crimson Tide coach had in the past publicly refrained from endorsing a state lottery in Alabama.
"I try to stay out of the politics but I do believe in education and we do believe in trying to create opportunities," Nick said. "That's why we made the commitment to the first-generation scholarship fund (at Alabama).
"We have been in a couple of states where they have lottery programs that fund public education, college education for students that make it a lot more affordable for those that have the qualifications. It's been our experience that that is a good thing."
It's not the first time a high-profile person in this state has embraced a state-funded lottery.
In 1999, then-Gov. Don Siegelman ran for governor on an agenda that included a state lottery. It was voted down in a referedum that many felt was the right idea, but the wrong lottery because of the ambiguous language in the amendment and the fact that much of the money wasn't directed toward public education.
"I think you probably have some people riding the fence who maybe are for the concept but they don't trust their dollars are going to go to the right place," Terry said. "If the people who bring it up can prove they will have accountability, that the follars are going where they say they're going to go and that they really can impact the lives of young people, I think you're going to have a lot more people support it."
The Alabama football coach and his wife know a lot about a state lotteries funding education.
They moved from Michigan State to LSU, where the Louisiana State Lottery is one of the most highly regarded in the country. They left LSU and went to the Miami Dolphins, where Florida's lottery started a Bright Futures Scholarships fund for college education.
And they own a summer home at Lake Burton in north Georgia, where the HOPE (Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally) Scholarship Program provides all in-state high school students with a 3.0 grade-point average with tuition, mandatory fees and a book allowance.
"We talk about it just about everywhere we go and I find it to be a real sore spot in the education system in Alabama," Terry said. "What I'm talking about is some sort of lottery system for higher education. I guess the reason we can be so adamant about it is we've seen both ends and see the effects it makes in the state, the impact it makes on individual lives in each state, in a state that has such poor statistics in education at the national level.
"We've seen it work in Louisiana. Having a lake home in Georgia we can see it every day working in Georgia. Having lived in Florida, we've watched the beauty of it working in Florida. I'm told Mississippi was fighting hard to keep us from passing our own lottery system because they're happy to take all the money that our people would spend in our state."
The Louisiana lottery allots 35 percent of every $1 sale to the state's treasury department, with at least 50 percent returned to the players and at least 5 percent as a commission to the stores selling the lottery tickets. Since the lottery began in 1991, more than $6 billion has been generated with more than $2.1 billion transferred to the state treasury.
In Georgia, the lottery has raised more than $11 billion for the education programs since it started in 1993.
In Florida, where the lottery started in 1997 and added additional games as it progressed, the initial $1 scratch-off "Millionaire" program quickly exceeded $95 million in sales and allowed the state to pay off the start-up costs in 17 days.
Forty-two states have a state-run lottery system and Mississippi and Nevada, two states that don't, have widespread casino gambling. Since Alabama voters turned down the lottery in 1999, Oklahoma, North Carolina, North Dakota, Tennessee and South Carolina have voted for state-run lottery systems and Arkansas, one of the eight states remaining that doesn't have one, recently voted in the lottery and is currently in a start-up mode.
That leaves Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Mississippi, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming as the only states without one.
"In essence, it is a voluntary pact," Terry said. "If you don't want to buy a ticket, you certainly don't have to. If you're going to buy one, we'd just as soon send one of our young people to college as someone in Mississippi.
"I'm a teacher, I was teaching for 12 years substituted along the way. Nick and I are both first-generation college educated in our family. We've seen first hand what that does in a family, how it sets a new standard for the whole family. Your sister's children, your nieces and nephews, that want to be like Aunt Terry or Uncle Nick and see what that college education has done to improve the quality of our lives and the choices. It's all about choices.
"And certainly in today's economy this has been proven more than ever, what are your choices? If you don't have a college education, it's very slim."
The first lady of Alabama football, who personally raised money at Alabama's A-Day game in 2007 for tornado victims in Enterprise and for the university's library system in 2008, said she and her husband are adamant about their feelings.
"I think we can't give up," she said. "I realize there are special interest groups that are opposed to it for their own reasons. Certainly, I respect that but I think it has to push from the political mechanism. We need to get our politicians on board. My husband has said he would go speak to the House, to the Senate, whatever it takes. I would go with him.
"We have lobbyists for everything and these lobbyists spend a lot of money trying to get their point across. Nick is saying, I want to go speak. Nick and I would both go and talk to the right people if we thought it would make a difference.
"I think it's time for our Alabama population to see the success that Louisiana is having over time, that Georgia is having over time and then they'll begin to have some confidence and faith that we should do it."