If I had to pick one Virginia agency to fail, it would be the Virginia Lottery. Thus the news that the lottery has retired the phenomenally creative and effective “Lady Luck” campaign in favor of some insipid “Game Guy” schtick doesn’t bother me much at all. This lottery scheme has got to be the cruelest way government can abuse the most unfortunate among our citizenry ever devised.
The intent here of creating an actual, honest-to-goodness revenue stream to fund education particularly in low income areas is admittedly noble. Preying upon greed within a largely under-educated, low-income minority population to provide that stream is abusive, deplorable and utterly self-defeating. There’s not much moral distinction between government run lotteries and having government opening stores selling crack cocaine in low income neighborhoods.
Even the intent here has been corrupted. Not a single dollar in extra funding for education is raised through Virginia’s lottery program. Every dollar the lottery raises reduces the education funding from the General Fund for education by a dollar, and instead that dollar pays for General Fund expenses instead. Overwhelmingly, the largest and growing proportion of non-educational General Fund expenses are for the Commonwealth’s participation in the fraud and abuse-ridden federal Medicaid program, which provides care for low and no-income Virginia residents. That big PR campaign by the lottery that it pays for Virginia schools, although accurate in intent, is utterly fraudulent in practice.
And who plays the lottery? Overwhelmingly it is the poor who play, and the poorer they are, the greater percentage of income they tend to spend on lottery tickets. Preying on their financial incompetence and misplaced hope, government tempts these people with glitzy and expensive ad campaigns that primarily run in low income demographic areas and in retail outlets where the poor are more frequently shopping. If they’re relatively fortunate, they won’t win a lot of money, if any. If they’re really “lucky” they’ll win a huge pot of money and join that narrow slice of Americans most likely to declare bankruptcy and become homeless within five years.
In effect the Virginia Lottery steals money from the poor, processes it through an expensive government bureaucracy, and then uses a small portion of the proceeds to subsidize their healthcare.
There are winners in the lottery, though, and those winners make sure this program continues. The contractors that support the lottery, including advertisers, retailers, creative agencies, and media outlets make big bucks off this program. Political contributions by companies such as lottery vendor GTECH help make sure this program continues to steal from the poor, help make the enablers rich, and politicians dissemble about how this supposedly helps the poor instead of financially raping them by exploiting their flaws and weaknesses. The roughly half of large lottery winnings that gets assessed in federal income taxes makes the federal government a huge winner in this scheme as well, and possibly the biggest winner of all.
The people who willingly participate in their own financial demise by playing this idiotic game, overwhelmingly among the neediest of Virginians, are losers. They can least afford to be preyed on this way and they’re actually targeted as victims by their own government.
The Lottery’s new campaign slogan about how Virginians like to play games is probably the most accurate part of this whole mess. Evidently, we do. We like to pat ourselves on the back that we have a program that helps people, often of modest means, win big bucks and at the same time provide additional non-tax funding for education. In reality we exploit the financial incompetence of low income people with a devilish scheme that hits the poorest of the poor the hardest, pads the pockets of the rich and powerful, is diverted from the public good it is supposed to finance and is used to bail out the one government program operating in Virginia that has such a high incidence of fraud and abuse that a division of the Attorney General’s office had to be created.
If truth in advertising were applied to our own government, the Virginia Lottery would have a slogan along the lines of “Our New Hot Game: Rape The Poor.”
The opinions expressed here are solely the views of the author, and not representative of the position of any organization, political party, doughnut shop, knitting guild, or waste recycling facility, but may be correctly attributed to the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy. If anything in the above article has offended you, please click here to receive an immediate apology.
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