A North Carolina lawmaker is pushing to ban lottery ticket sales for those on welfare or in bankruptcy, a proposal that would affect more than 1.7 million people in the Tar Heel State.
According to the Raleigh News Observer, State Rep. Paul "Skip" Stam, a Republican from Wake, said he hopes to bring the proposal during the upcoming legislative session.
“We’re giving them welfare to help them live, and yet by selling them a ticket, we’re taking away their money that is there to provide them the barest of necessities," Stam said.
Stam acknowledged that there were concerns over how the ban might be enforced, especially because lottery clerks may not always be able to tell if lottery players are on government assistance. But in obvious cases, such as when customers use food stamps to buy groceries, they should not be permitted.
Stam said the purpose of the ban was for the protection of consumers, whom he says fall prey to deceptive advertising by the lottery, which tends to attract lower-income people who don't understand that their chances of winning are slim.
"What they are talking about is making it a more honest lottery," Stam said. He argued that the lottery advertises large cash payouts, but fails to explain the odds of winning big prizes and that even big wins are ultimately slashed by taxes and deductions.
According to North Carolina Policy watch, sales of lottery tickets are concentrated in impoverished counties, and that all but two of the 20 poorest counties have above-average ticket sales per capita.
Census data from the most recent American Community survey (2011) shows 28 percent of African American North residents fall below the poverty level (compared to 18 percent statewide). Nearly half of the families on food stamps in the state are African American, even though they make up less than 12 percent of the state's population.
The NAACP has historically been opposed to lottery bans, and Stam's proposed changes are no different.
"The NAACP didn't agree with the lottery to start with," said North Carolina NAACP president the Rev. William Barber. "Rather than Mr. Stam having a side argument, ask him to stop blocking labor rights for poor people and working people. Ask him to have a real conversation about real wage."
The North Carolina Education Lottery, which was established in 2005 over opposition from Republicans and even some progressive Democrats who called the lottery a regressive tax on the poor, helps pay for the reduction of class sizes, supplements school constructions costs and college scholarships.
North Carolina has an estimated population of 9.7 million, with 2.3 million (nearly a quarter) people on some kind of supplemental income.