. . . posts on faith and life
When I was in college I liked to gamble (in more ways than one). Quite often several of my friends and I would gather together in order to play cards for money. It was not unusual to lose $60, $80, or $100. Nor was it unusual for the ‘big winner’ of the night to take home twice that. On more than one occasion I was the ‘big winner,’ but refused to take all of the money. In these cases one of the ‘big losers’ of the night had no business losing that much money. Being a friend who recognized this (and being a bit of a ‘softy’ too), I would tell my friend to keep his money and not to come back when he was gambling with rent funds.
I recognized that it would be unjust to take my friend’s money. Granted, he had a responsibility to make the right choice, and he should have never been there in the first place. Nonetheless, I could not take his money. This is the problem with casinos. They give us the impression that we are ‘playing against the house,’ that we are taking ‘the house money’ if we win. However, if you’ve ever spent much time in a casino you will recognize that the money you are taking in a win is not really ‘house money,’ but money that ‘the house’ took from people who should have never been there in the first place, people who came gambling with money that they actually could not afford to lose. It’s this broader societal perspective that makes casinos unjust, not the individual choice to entertain oneself at a $5 Blackjack table.
Likewise, we have a similar dynamic with state lotteries. Anyone who has stepped inside of a gas station can recognize that the majority of people playing the lottery are exactly the same people who can least afford to play the stupid game. By and large, it’s not middle and upper class Americans, who can afford ‘to blow’ a few bucks on a game that has worse odds than being struck by lightning, that are putting in the major portion of the millions of dollars that accumulate in any given jackpot. Rather, it’s individuals who actually need the money they are wasting. Often they are dropping $20, $30, and $40 on multiple tickets that will never bring any returns.
States justify this practice by using the money generated by lotteries to fund education. I work in a public school in the state of Georgia, a state that has been a pioneer in this practice. Indeed, it makes a difference. There are many great programs and many valuable resources that have been poured into public education in Georgia because of the state lottery. However, this practice sounds and looks better at first glance than it does after close inspection. Certainly some underprivileged individuals have bettered their lives from things like the Hope Scholarship. But the overall dynamics have created another injustice.
While Georgia has advanced its public education in many ways it has done little to improve it’s low ranking (49th out of 50 is almost as low as you can go) Graduation Rate and Dropout Rate (which are two separate calculations). Studies (like this one) have shown that the students that are most likely to dropout of school and/or least likely to pursue post-secondary education are typically marked by certain characteristics such as: reduced lunch (being below the poverty line), high transience, and a lack of education in the family (which leads to a lack of value placed on education and a lack of conversation in the home about possibilities in education). In turn, children from these homes lack the cultural capital required to succeed in school (a lack of trust towards schools, teachers, and administrators, a lack of knowing the expectations in education, a lack of ‘speaking the language’ of education, etc.).
This same socio-economic group is providing the overwhelming majority of funds that go into the lottery. It’s from their misspent money that we are putting new computers, expensive test prep software, digital projectors, and impressive interactive boards into our schools, and in some cases every single classroom in a particular school. These are great tools in the hands of teachers. However, the people who are funding these resources are the same persons whose children are not succeeding in school despite all of the new gadgets. Ironically, it’s mostly the middle and upper class students, whose parents are not playing the lottery anyway, that are benefiting from these resources.
When I talk with other Christians about this or similar dynamics one response I often hear is along the lines of, “They’re making their choice. It’s too bad that people make bad choices. But what can you do?” Yet, the same Christians are often passionate about being actively involved in trying to take back the right to make certain other choices like having an abortion. (While the issue of abortion deserves a whole separate discussion, I will interject that I have seen firsthand how devastating this choice can be, but also recognize that it is highly unlikely that this individual choice will ever be taken back from Americans). I think that our indifference to this issue represents a hypocrisy on our part. We say that we are ‘for life.’ Yet we do often do little to ‘right wrongs’ that are hindering life among living, marginalized members of our society (not to mention our often inconsistent stances on war, capital punishment, etc.). I wonder what other wrongs we are guilty of not trying to right?