Opinion: Lottery tickets in vending machines might soon come to Kansas

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Last week the Kansas House voted 100-25 to approve House Bill 2313, legislation that would allow retailers to begin selling lottery tickets in vending machines.

The Senate approved similar measures last Thursday a 35-5 vote, but a compromise is needed to get the bill through Congress and onto Gov. Brownback’s desk.

As of now, there are 37 states that allow state-sponsored lottery tickets to be sold by retailers in vending machines. It is currently against state law for grocery and convenience stores to sell Kansas Lottery tickets, but officials and lobbyists from the state lottery are hoping that’s all about to change.

Lottery spokeswoman, Sally Lunsford, says the measures “would increase lottery revenue and cut labor costs for retailers, where ticket buyers could bypass clerks and use the self-service machines.”

Last year revenue from lottery ticket sales hit a record $78 million.

Other proponents of House Bill 2313, like Sen. Jake LaTurner, R-Pittsburg, are touting an amendment in the bill that will “direct at least $4 million in new lottery proceeds to mental health programs” in Kansas.

Usually, I would be on board with a bill that proposes an increase in spending on mental illness, as it is a very serious issue in our country. The National Alliance on Mental Illness estimates that one in five Americans experiences a form of mental illness every year. That’s 43.8 million, or 18.5 percent of the U.S. population.

I have a two immediate problems with this bill that prevent me from supporting it.

One being that, gambling addiction is a mental illness and anyone who has taken a basic psychology course would know that.

This mental illness, according to research by Rehab International, affects an estimated 5.5 million Americans who are considered compulsive/problem gamblers and there are an additional 15 million adults considered “under the risk of becoming problem gamblers.”

Currently, the state devotes a mere 2 percent of taxes from state-operated casinos to the Problem Gambling and Addictions Grant Fund, which in the 2016 fiscal year equaled about $7.3 million.

Taking this into consideration, it doesn’t make sense to support revenue raised by this bill is helping address the issue of mental illness when those suffering from a form of mental illness—gambling addiction—might be exploited into buying more lottery tickets.

Yes, an increase in lottery ticket sales could raise more funds for addressing mental illnesses in Kansas, but at the potential cost of increasing gambling addictions. I’m not sure about you, but that seems a bit redundant.

The other problem I have with this bill is that lottery tickets are a de facto tax on the poor and I believe the state should not be sponsoring such a policy.

There has been a decent amount of research on the question of whether lottery tickets, specifically scratch-offs, are a de facto tax on the poor and the results indicate that this is indeed the case.

One study in Minnesota found that about three out of four scratch-off lottery tickets were bought by individuals with below-average incomes. In another study, which took place in South Carolina, an estimated 60 percent of all lottery ticket sales were attributed to individuals with “very low incomes.”

None of this should be shocking.

“It’s the desperation play,” David Just, economics and management professor at Cornell University, said in an interview with NPR. “People don’t treat it like entertainment. Instead those — particularly those who are poor — are treating this more as an investment opportunity. It’s their Hail Mary pass to try and make it big.”

This raises a serious ethical issue: should Kansas be exploiting the working poor to pay for state services that could instead be provided by raising taxes on large corporations and creating a more tiered tax bracket?

The current tax bracket has two tiers: couples making under $30,000 and couples making over that amount—for individuals the marginal tax rate increases only at the $15,000 mark. So, someone like Charles Koch, who is worth $48.1 billion, may be paying the same marginal tax rate to the state as a couple who earns $40,000.

It should be an easy ethical decision to choose the latter option, but unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be the route Kansas lawmakers want to take.

Caleb Snider is a sophomore in public relations. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to [email protected]

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