by Max Brantley
Lottery sales continue their precipitous decline.
As Stephens Media noted, sales in September were down $9 million. The story didn't note that sales were $39 million in September 2011, meaning a whopping 23 percent drop. Cost-cutting helped keep net for scholarships closer to target, but all the talk of new $20 scratchoff games and rebound of this gimmick or that gimmick doesn't cover the inexorable drop in year-to-year monthly results. The lottery, only three years old, "matured" even faster than anyone dreamed. Plus, there's talk of new competition from Mississippi. Plus, the only way to increase revenue is more games, more marketing and more access to gambling. These come with expenses in every case, including societal.
Inevitably, the amount awarded for individual lottery scholarships will decline further. Or the legislature will change the rules so that fewer qualify. The latter solution, if adopted, would favor higher income students, because any test- or grade-based criteria inevitably will track economic condition of the students.
Bill Halter, who championed the lottery's creation, is still right. If the lottery is to be of benefit to Arkansas — and that's an evolving debate — it must help more, not fewer, students and it must be aimed at attracting and keeping people in college who were less likely to attend or graduate. A subsidy for those most likely to succeed will undoubtedly be popular with the lucky ducks and their families, but do markedly less for the state's low attainment in higher education.