Lottery expansion raises issue of gambling's impact on poor, youth
Lawmakers' concerns about Gov. Tom Corbett's plan to privatize management of the state lottery have dealt mostly with whether it usurps legislative power, and whether a private manager can do anything for the enterprise that public managers can't.
But the issue isn't simply privatization, it's a vast expansion of gambling in a state already saturated with it. The state already generates more lottery revenue than any state other than Nevada, not counting the lottery's $3.5 billion in gross sales.
Most states use at least some lottery revenue for education funding, but Pennsylvania uses all of it - now more than $1 billion a year net - to fund programs for older residents. The lottery is a mechanism to transfer money mostly from the young to the old. But it serves the state's purpose in generating revenue multiple ways, because lotteries are also the gateway to other types of gambling.
The "poor are still the leading patron of the lottery," said a 2011 study in the Journal of Gambling Studies. "Legalization of gambling has seen a significant increase of young people gambling, particularly in lotteries, and the best predictor of their lottery gambling is their parents' lottery participation."
When the Senate Finance Committee convenes a hearing this month on the governor's lottery plans, it should examine the wisdom of a state government relying so heavily on gambling as a revenue source, in the first place.