2017-12-06 / Columns


Lottery doesn’t pay for the poor

A study being done by the S.C. Commission on Minority Affairs is likely to confirm what is already known or suspected — those who spend the most on lottery tickets are the least able to afford them, and that most lottery scholarships are awarded in urban population centers rather than in poor rural areas where per capita lottery spending is the highest.

Benjamin Washington Jr., the commission’s program manager for research, told The Post and Courier’s Prentiss Findlay that part of the focus will be on the correlation between counties where people spend more of their income on lottery tickets and the availability of lottery money for higher education.

“I’m thinking about the I-95 corridor in particular,” Mr. Washington said, referring to the 36 mostly poor school districts along the interstate sometimes called the “Corridor of Shame,” after a documentary of that title decried the poor state of public education there.

A previous study showed that residents in poorer counties tended to spend the most on lottery tickets and get less back in scholarships.

In Allendale County, where the state has taken control of the school district in an effort to improve educational outcomes, lottery spending per capita was about $819 per year and 41 percent of residents live in poverty. But only $8.1 million in lottery scholarships were awarded.

Similarly, in Bamberg County, where 32 percent of residents live in poverty, per capita spending on the lottery was about $1,000 per year. But just $8.8 million in scholarships were awarded there.

By contrast, Richland County residents spent an average of $580 on lottery tickets and received $195 million in scholarship funds. The numbers in Charleston County were about the same — $585 in per capita lottery spending and $173 million in scholarships.

In Greenville County, per capita spending on the lottery was just $375 on average, but $282.7 million in scholarships were awarded there.

Hopefully, the commission’s study will help change attitudes about buying lottery tickets and perhaps inspire changes in how lottery scholarships are awarded.

With a recent change in what constitutes a passing grade — 60 instead of 70 — about 25,500 more high school students are expected to become eligible for merit-based lottery scholarships over the next four years. The Commission on Higher Education has warned that there won’t be adequate lottery funds to pay for the increase, and has recommended raising scholarship standards accordingly.

Lotteries are tantamount to a tax on the poor. And in South Carolina, it appears to be doubly so, with the state’s poorest citizens essentially subsidizing scholarships for students in higher-income areas.


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