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A lottery ticket run to the border

Dec 9, 2005, 10:06 am

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Editorial / Opinion

An entertaining story about a jaunt to a bordering state to buy lottery tickets highlights Nevada's lack of a lottery — and shoots down the 'regressive tax' theory.

It was a typical Wednesday.

Up at 4:45 a.m., I got in my morning walk with a friend, then negotiated with my husband to drop off the first set of boys at school (he graciously capitulated) so that I could start the day's adventure early.

I put on my favorite hot pink T-shirt with the Black Mountain Community Bank logo, denim overalls, a pair of Kmart knock-off pink and black Converse sneakers, brushed my hair into a ponytail and slapped on a my lucky pink breast cancer awareness baseball cap. Then off to the border I ran.

You're probably wondering which border and what for? I was headed for the Arizona border to purchase the winning Powerball lottery ticket that was going to bring an eclectic group of fine employees and me more than $340 million to split.

Traffic was good crossing Hoover Dam, which made it a smooth, enjoyable and quick ride to Rosie's Den on U.S. 93.

What I didn't expect to find were two short lines — one at the front entrance and another at the back exit. Twenty minutes later I found, to my delight, that I had beat the crowd. By then there were hundreds of people in line to purchase their winning ticket.

As I left, it made me wonder, how many Southern Nevadans ran to the border for themselves and their friends, and how much money was leaving Nevada? If Nevada had a lottery, how much money would it bring to the retailers and state programs such as education? What impact would it bring to local businesses providing printing, advertising and other necessary services? How many jobs would that provide?

Can you envision the ecstasy Nevada gaming executives would feel if they had people by the hundreds waiting in lines to play their games? Just picture, with a $340 million payout, like the one that drew me across the border, the kind of traffic that it would create in a casino.

When I returned to the office with my winning ticket, the research started immediately.

Let's look at the numbers in Arizona. According to a report put out by the Arizona State Lottery Commission, total revenue from lottery ticket sales were $366.5 million in 2004, with 6.5 percent of that gross amount appropriated for payment of commissions to ticket retailers. The state budget benefited with revenue of $103.4 million from the lottery. Not too shabby!

California's lottery is used strictly for education. So, what does the lottery bring to ease that state's growing student population? With sales of $2,940,000,000 — that's right, almost $3 billion — the lottery contributed more than $1 billion to education last year. Retailers benefited by commissions of $264 million. This is huge when you take into consideration that there are only 19,000 retailers in the program.

In 1937, Nevada lawmakers approved the lottery, but it never became law, according to historical accounts. The gaming industry fought it, feeling threatened by the possibility of competition. That apprehension is behind its argument against the lottery still today.

Why is there resistance from Nevada's gaming industry when there is discussion on incorporating a Nevada lottery for our state's education? Who wants to leave 6.5 percent of hundreds of millions, or potentially billions, of dollars on the table? That's not taking into consideration the foot traffic a big jackpot would bring into casinos as lottery retailers. When I was at Rosie's Den, I purchased breakfast and several items from the little store in addition to my tickets.

One of the strongest arguments against the lottery in other states is that it is a form of regressive taxation — poorer people are more likely to play. That's an irrelevant argument in a state with nickel slot and video poker machines at every corner convenience and grocery store.

One way to eliminate the gaming industry's concern may be to allow those with unrestricted licenses an exclusive right to sell lottery tickets for a five-year period, followed by an impact study to see just how harmful the system is. I'm willing to give the casinos such a windfall in order to see millions of dollars raised to pay for smaller classroom sizes, a living wage for teachers, up-to-date textbooks and programs that make our children literate, capable citizens.

A more cynical person might say that the casinos are resistant to improving the educational system because it could impact their access to a lower wage workforce. It is easy for those of us struggling to get the best education for our children in the public school system to look at those top casino executives who are balking at a new revenue source for schools — who probably have the resources to enroll their children in private schools — and assume that they may not care about the state's educational system.

I have come to two conclusions: the first being that an individual's stance on legalizing a lottery for education in Nevada is truly a matter of which seat the spectator is viewing the game from. The second conclusion was that I ran to the wrong border. The next morning, my sister Teresa called and asked why I didn't run to the Oregon border, where the winning ticket was purchased.

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