What’s in a (lottery) name?

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 28, 2013

North Carolina’s lottery is back in the headlines, thanks to a couple of proposals from state Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam.
The Wake County Republican wants to prohibit sales of lottery tickets to people who receive public assistance or have filed for bankruptcy. That’s one part of his lottery bill, and it’s the part that has generated the most comment, including a story on the liberal-leaning Huffington Post website. No surprise there, since we in the commentariat class are often quick to pounce on anything that presumes to further stigmatize or punish those who are already struggling for a handhold on life’s margins.
As with previous calls for drug-testing those on public assistance, the lottery-sales restriction provides fodder for endless debate about whether it’s desirable, or even enforceable (and Stam himself acknowledges it could put store operators in a difficult position). You might also ask: If such a ban is good, why not expand it to include those who have unpaid income tax bills, unpaid child-support and unpaid parking tickets? Those take a toll on regular taxpayers, too.
But for today, let’s put that debate aside and look at the other part of Stam’s proposal — the one getting less attention. He wants to change the name of the N.C. Education Lottery, so that it’s simply the N.C. Lottery. As justification for the name revision, Stam rightfully points out that it’s misleading to put “education” so prominently in the name when a relatively small percentage of the proceeds actually trickles down to education, and in particular local school systems.
“It’s just inappropriate to take what is a very important function of state government … and use that as a selling point, when obviously the more educated you are, the less likely you are to play the lottery,” he told the Asociated Press.
That’s an argument that might find a receptive audience in places like Rowan County, where Gov. Bev Perdue’s diversion of lottery funds to help balance the state budget took away $1 million — money that in reality local school systems will never get back. Rather than a gold mine for education, the lottery more often resembles a shell game in which local school systems get far less than promised.
Of course, cash-strapped school systems might offer another solution to the truth-in-advertising problem Stam identifies. Keep “education” in the name — just make sure more of the record-breaking lottery revenues actually go toward that purpose.