Government lottery feeds on poor

By DAVID MOON, Moon Capital Management, LLC
January 11, 2009

On New Year's Eve, I was walking down Gay Street where, across from a convenience store, sitting on the sidewalk next to the AmSouth bank, was a homeless guy.

Sadly, and disgustingly, he was crumpled directly in front of a pile of freshly deposited human excrement. It seemed obvious that he had just done his business on an unusually deserted sidewalk.

Guess what he was doing as he sat there after finishing his business on the sidewalk? Scratching a lottery ticket.

Don't get me wrong. I haven't gone soft ' I still believe in personal responsibility. After all, he wasn't being threatened with waterboarding if he didn't spend his last dollar on a Lucky 7 card.

But here was a guy who either didn't have the mental or emotional capacity to walk 20 yards to do his private business behind a dumpster.

I mean, why do you think we call them dumpsters?

And yet, the state government is in the business of marketing and selling completely useless pieces of paper to its citizens ' including this homeless guy.

Of course, there's a chance he drinks cheap liquor and smokes cigarettes. He might engage in all sorts of social activities that we who use indoor bathrooms find offensive or poor uses of limited resources.

But at least the government ' that is, we the people ' doesn't have a state department in charge of selling MD 20/20.

Please don't tell me that lotteries provide institutions like the University of Tennessee with badly needed funds. It actually does the opposite. It creates an increased demand for UT enrollment while reducing families' out-of-pocket expenditures, not increasing the University's cash flow.

It might not surprise you to know that the state lottery, as we know it today, became popular when it was reinvented by the state of Michigan in 1977. What did they do to revive sagging sales?

Introduced a game named Daily, modeled after the illegal numbers games that public-housing tenants had been playing on the streets for years. Most of the initial 300 terminals were set up in liquor stores located in deteriorating inner-city neighborhoods.

Detroit minister, Rev. James Holley said in 1988 'It's the craziest thing I've ever seen. The state gives these people money and then figures out a way to get it back.'

Democrats often think of themselves as champions of the little guy. In the south, the Republican Party is full of evangelical Christians. Each group loves to position itself as morally superior to the other.

I wonder how all those lottery supporters would feel if the jackpot press conferences had to be held on Gay Street, in front a guy pooping on himself while playing Daily?

And I wonder if there are more guys playing the lottery who live on the streets or who win $100 million?

David Moon is president of Moon Capital Management, a Knoxville-based investment management firm. This article originally appeared in the News Sentinel (Knoxville, TN).

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