Thanks to leadership of Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, Arkansas will vote this year on legalizing a state lottery, profits to go to college scholarships.
What's not to like?
Answer: The list is long. Profits will be the losses of gamblers, many of whom will be people who can't afford to spend their grocery money on lottery tickets. But we're libertarians on spending. If food stamp recipients prefer steak to beans, that's their business. Same for the house-poor of the ritzy western suburbs.
The experience in other states suggests that lottery-financed scholarships will become a middle-class entitlement program. It won't necessarily send more people to college; it will use lottery players to subsidize those already college-bound.
The lottery, inevitably, will require ever greater marketing and ever expanding gambling options to produce increasing revenue. With this certainty comes the fear of casino-style gambling options, such as video lottery terminals in convenience stores. It is fair to contemplate whether the public's government should be in the slot machine business.
Despite the gloss of cautionary wording, the amendment will give comfort to legislators when they tighten higher education spending in years ahead.
Finally, in making a legal defense of the lottery amendment, its backers have answered criticism that it could open the door to casino gambling by saying that there is no constitutional bar to casinos today. They say it already takes only a simple vote of the legislature to legalize casino gambling. It seems likely then that successful legal defense of the lottery amendment will be followed by redoubled efforts to transform the existing racinos at Southland and Oaklawn Parks into the full-fledged Vegas-style slot parlors.
There's one powerful argument for the lottery. Arkansas is an island amid a sea of gambling states. If Arkansans are going to play the lottery — and they already do — why should they not do it at home? We confess our own attraction to the cheap thrill of millionaire daydreams purchased by a $1 ticket.
In short: Many of us here probably will vote for the lottery amendment. But conscience prevents us from urging the same course on others.
For Mayor Hays
North Little Rock Mayor Pat Hays' grand schemes and easy spending of tax money on private interests has been lampooned by opponents lately, with some justification. We've poked fun at his rusty mothball fleet, too. But the big picture is that he's a steady, can-do leader with a revitalized city core to recommend his re-election to another term.