A Lottery for Tennessee? / #5
By: Rubel Shelly

Some people have gently chided me for opposing a lottery. “But the money generated by a lottery is for our kids’ education!” they say. “So why would you be opposed to it?”

If I thought a lottery would help educate children in any substantial way, I would gladly reconsider my view. But the research I have done through public documents says the claim is phony. Internal documents from gaming companies make it clear that those who want to get states into the gambling business push the “education” and “helping kids” buttons to sell their product.

Florida, for example, created a state lottery in 1987. The citizens of that state were told it would be a boost to education. And the bill creating Florida’s lottery – like the bill offered to Tennesseans – specifically said that net lottery revenue was “not to be used as a substitute for existing resources for education.” How has it worked?

Melbourne’s Florida Today (May 19, 2002) reports that it hasn’t worked out well at all. “If you factor in inflation and student growth, the state actually spends slightly less on education now than it did during the 1986-87 school year. That year, the last before the lottery, the state spent $3,061 for every student in kindergarten through 12th grade. To keep up with inflation, spending this year would have needed to be $4,864 per students. It was $4,858.”

How could that happen? Didn’t the bill specifically say that lottery revenue was not to be used simply to shuffle budget money around? Yes. It specifically said that. But Judy Preston, assistant superintendent for Brevard Schools, said, “They gave us lottery money and took away sales tax money.” There’s always a way around the law!

Tennessee’s proposed lottery would go to create a scholarship fund – not to hire more teachers, raise teacher pay, buy textbooks, fund school lunch programs, etc. Any money left over after the scholarship program is funded would go to building programs for schools. Do you think any politician anywhere would argue for moving revenue to this or that program because the schools are already getting extra money from a lottery? That is what happened in Florida.

Information published by the Pew Charitable Trusts tracks how programs for children are funded in various places in the United States. Here is what its online publication says about the Florida lottery: “Since the Florida lottery was enacted, there also appears to have been a shift in the state/local share of education funding, increasing the local share. In 1986-87, just before the lottery, the state/local split in public school funding was 65 percent state and 35 percent local. By 1995-96, the split had shifted to 55 percent state general revenue, 6 percent lottery and 39 percent local. This shifts the tax burden toward localities, which rely primarily on property taxes for revenue” (

Did you catch that last line? The use of earmarked lottery funds has resulted in the shifting of a greater tax burden on localities in Florida. The lottery not only didn’t take care of its original obligation (i.e., helping the children) but put more financial pressure on their parents in the form of higher taxes.

The plan for a lottery in Tennessee isn’t good for education, for children, or public revenue. It is a loser – and ought to be rejected. Its promises are hollow and deceptive. Its outcomes are predictable and negative.