As some of you know, I was given the task of coordinating United Methodist work against the establishment of a lottery in Tennessee. For two years, I worked with a variety of folks (conservative and liberal) to try and convince voters that the lottery wouldn’t be our savior, that there were many justices issues involved, and that it just wasn’t right for our state. I was involved in a state-wide political campaign which was a great learning experience, but took an enourmous amount of energy. However, although we worked hard and raised some money, we lost the referendum by about 8 percentage points.
I was sad after the loss, but went on, knowing that I had done what I could (and also knowing that we made many mistakes in our campaign). But I went on and busied myself with the work of ministry, dealing with the next crisis that came along.
I haven’t thought too much about the lottery until this week. The first Tennessee Lottery tickets were sold this week, and they broke records for opening day sales. Everywhere I turn I see lottery machines and tickets. And I hear folks talking about buying tickets, and how much money they are going to win from the lottery.
My heart is breaking. Oh, I know that there are kids that will go to college on these funds. But I also know that addicted persons will be the primary funders of these scholarships. I know that pre-school programs will be started. But I also know that lotteries prey primarily on the poor. I know that it’s all in fun. But I also know that bankruptcy rates rise when gambling enters a state — and that Tennessee already has one of the highest rates of bankruptcy in the state.
I’m not going to protest, carrying signs and screaming that folks are going to burn in hell if they buy a lottery ticket. In fact, I don’t really think that. But I do think that it’s an unjust system of funding government, and it makes me sad to realize that most folks don’t have a clue as to what we’ve gotten into.