Although I'm against state lotteries because they're unjustified government monopolies (that, not coincidentally, offer crappy odds), I have a hard time sympathizing with their most conspicuous critics, who are motivated by a combination of paternalism and moralism. "Scratch-off tickets are to the lottery what crack is to cocaine," a Texas state legislator tells The New York Times. He and other "urban liberal Democratic politicians" have allied themselves with religious conservatives who oppose all forms of gambling. The "liberals" are worried by "evidence that blacks and Hispanics individually spend much more than whites on the lottery."
This concern reminds me of anti-smoking activists who criticize tobacco companies for "targeting vulnerable populations"—i.e., children, women, blacks, and Hispanics, who apparently are on a par when it comes to making risky decisions, and in any event less savvy than white men. The Times reports that a 2006 Texas survey found "the typical black player spent $70 a month on the lottery, compared with $47 for Hispanics and $20 for whites." Why is that more troubling than the reverse situation would be? If the issue were simply income (a question of who is better able to afford lottery tickets) or education (a question of who is better prepared to assess the costs and benefits of playing the lottery), why bring up race at all? Are blacks and Hispanics constitutionally less capable of deciding how to spend their money?
Ernest L. Passailaigue, director of the South Carolina lottery and president of the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries, manages to discuss the demographics of his customers without sounding racist:
Mr. Passailaigue…does not dispute that certain games appeal more to minorities and low-income people, but he said these groups were not being singled out and the trend should not worry state lottery officials.
"It's more cultural in nature," he said. "Some people think it's O.K. to go and play golf and bet on each hole."
While golfers might have more disposable income than many scratch-off bettors, Mr. Passailaigue argued the reality was, "Culturally, people have experienced different ways not only to amuse themselves but to gamble. It's been that way for a long time in this country."