Rip Van Winkle and the North Carolina lottery
It is May 15, 2015. I just woke up. I feel great, but my wife tells me I have been in a coma for the past 10 years.
My wife is helping me remember what happened on that day ‘— the day I went into the coma. She says that I got real angry when I learned that the leaders of the legislature were going to push through the state lottery as part of the budget bill.
Now, I am beginning to remember. The leaders promised all kinds of things to get the votes they needed ‘— restrictions on advertising, limited places for lottery sales, programs to discourage addiction to gambling and anything else, knowing that as soon as the lottery was in place, those provisions could be quietly eliminated.
The leaders also promised that the lottery proceeds would be earmarked for school construction, for college scholarships, for reducing class size and everything else that anyone wanted from the state. They promised everyone: ‘“Support the lottery and you will get what you need. But if we don’t have a lottery, you will just have to do without.’”
I got so mad that I guess something just popped in my brain. Whatever happened, I have been ‘asleep’ since 2005 until today.
My wife is smart. She knew that when I woke up I would want to know how the lottery turned out. She kept a little file of related newspaper articles that came out while I was in the coma.
Right now I am looking through the file. I will share some of the headlines, even though I know this will all be old news to you.
August 14, 2005: Budget bill including state lottery passes in the legislature. Governor signs.
April 30, 2006: Projected lottery receipts estimate is lowered. Lottery slow getting organized. Some North Carolinians continue to be drawn by high jackpots and effective advertising in Virginia and South Carolina.
March 1, 2007: Education leaders denounce lottery and legislative leaders for failure to provide promised enhancements to education funding. Legislative leaders respond by blaming lottery officials for inept administration.
May 15, 2008: Lottery officials are called on legislative carpet to explain why lottery is generating so little income. They ask for authority to expand advertising and provide ‘more exciting’ games.
August 15, 2008: Using budget bill again to push through lottery, the legislature frees the North Carolina lottery from almost every restriction and urges it to be creative to gain more revenue.
December 1, 2008: North Carolina lottery commission adopts a ‘most exciting’ lottery package. Based on a ‘loophole’ in Federal law, it opens up play on the internet for participation all over the world
March 15, 2009: Massive TV and billboard campaign promotes lottery participation. ‘“SUPPORT EDUCATION ‘—AND GIVE YOUR FAMILY THE WEALTH THEY DESERVE. THE MORE LOTTERY TICKETS YOU BUY THE MORE YOU SHOW YOUR LOVE FOR YOUR FAMILY.’”
June 15, 2009: Lottery officials announce that they have surpassed their revenue goals. Legislature authorizes bonus compensation packages for the officials. Justifying salaries that are five times what the governor of the state makes, legislative leaders say: ‘“These people are making money for our state. If we don’t compensate them, other state lotteries will steal them away from us. We have to pay them if we are going to keep them.’”
July 1, 2009: Virginia and South Carolina lotteries announce ‘“improvements’” that they say will ‘“make them more than competitive with North Carolina.’”
January 1, 2010. North Carolina lottery revenues stagnate. Study shows that nearly 30,000 North Carolina teenagers have severe problems with gambling addiction.
October 15, 2010. North Carolina lottery revenues decline, creating crisis in budget. Governor declares emergency and cuts back state funds for public schools, community colleges and universities. ‘“I hate to do it,’” she says. ‘“My heart is in education for our children, but that is where the money is and that is where the major cuts will have to be made.’”
June 1, 2012. Lottery revenues decline again. Officials blame heavy competition from Virginia and South Carolina, based on the exciting ‘improvements’ in those states, where lottery machines, similar to the old video poker machines, have been placed in every convenience and grocery store, fast food outlet and school cafeteria. ‘“It is terrible,’” the lottery officials say, ‘“but we will have to do the same things to compete.’”
August 15, 2012. Using the budget bill to push it though, legislature okays ‘“video lottery terminals’” in ‘“any public place’”,
‘“These gambling terminals are as addictive as crack cocaine,’” a legislative leader conceded, ‘“but they sure bring in the cash.’”
January 30, 2013: The national sales manager for a lottery service company is convicted of orchestrating a kickback scheme that passed on inflated payments to political consultants who also ran the election campaigns for leaders in the state house and senate.
November, 2014: State voters rise up in anger. Lottery opponents take over legislature.
May 15, 2015. Legislature passes bill phasing out lottery. Governor, a former lottery supporter, signs the bill, saying: ‘“I have heard the voice of the people and they have convinced me that it has never been good for our state.’”
Hey, that’s today.
What a miracle! The state has been through a nightmare, and I slept right through the whole thing and never even had a bad dream.