SAN FRANCISCO - MARCH 06: A man holds a bundle of Mega Millions lottery tickets that he just purchased March 6, 2007 in San Francisco, California. The lottery jackpot was up to $370 million for tonight's drawing, which will take place in New York's Times Square instead of the usual drawing location in Atlanta. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
I'm not a fan of gambling. I'm doubly down on state-sponsored gambling. And the California Lottery? Well, that belongs in the Hall of Shame.
Friday's Winning Numbers: 46-23-38-4-2-23
So why did I buy a Mega Millions ticket, with the jackpot having reached a record $640 million?
Because I might need that much money to end the lottery. (And yes, well, because I was having trouble coming up with a Friday post).
The lottery has almost certainly done more harm than good -- and that's not counting its effects on people who have problems gambling.
It created a terrible precedent for ballot initiatives in that it was not a response to any public policy concern. It was dreamed up by a ballot initiative petition circulator firm that decided to create initiatives so it would have more petitions to circulate -- that is, more business for itself. A company that does lotteries was recruited to fund it.
The rest is history. Today, using the ballot initiative process for non-policy purposes is common.
But the most damaging part of the lottery's legacy is what it has done for education. Yes, the lottery does send money to schools. The problem is that the lottery produces far less money for schools than everyone thinks.
In polls and focus groups, voters guess that a third or more of school funding comes from the lottery. This is one reason why many people think that the schools have enough money, and that taxes shouldn't be raised to cover schools' expenses.
In reality, the lottery's contribution to the schools is meager -- about $1 billion a year recently, or 2 percent of state school funding for K-12 in California.Of course, ending the lottery would be next to impossible. Because it was approved by ballot initiative, making changes to the process, or ending it all together, would require another ballot initiative. And you can't qualify an initiaitve without millions of dollars, and you can't pursue a successful campaign without tens of millions of dollars.
I don't have access to that kind of money. But imagine what a buck could do.