GFTA presents case against state lottery

By Megan R. Harrell

STAR STAFF
mharrell@starhq.com
 

  
Michael Gilstrap, campaign director for the Gambling Free Tennessee Alliance (GFTA) was in East Tennessee Wednesday to present the case the GFTA has against the upcoming state lottery referendum. Gilstrap refuted much of what pro-lottery state Senators Stephen Cohen (D-Memphis), and Carl Moore (R-Bristol) told the public earlier this week.
   The GFTA is a political campaign committee made up of business, civic and community leaders in Tennessee. The only agenda the GFTA has is to oppose the 2002 constitutional referendum that would authorize a statewide lottery.
   The GFTA believes the public is misinformed concerning the logistics of the lottery referendum. Gilstrap stated that many Tennesseans support the lottery because they believe it will improve the state's education system, when, actually, lottery money will not be used where it would be needed the most. "Not a penny of lottery money will go to buy books for third graders, any elementary schools, or to raise teachers salaries," Gilstrap said.
   Sen. Cohen has used the findings of the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (TACIR) to illustrate how the lottery would benefit education in the state. The TACIR has estimated that, if adopted, a Tennessee lottery could contribute as much as $300 million to education annually.
   According to Gilstrap, the language of the referendum being voted on Nov. 5 states all of the money for education will go toward college scholarships. Money that is left over after college scholarship programs are fully funded can then be used for pre-kindergarten education, or for building projects for K-12 students.
   "That is one of the greatest misunderstandings about this lottery. People are going into voting booths and are expecting the lottery to solve one of the state's biggest problems, public education K-12, and this lottery is not going to solve this problem," Gilstrap said.
   Gilstrap fears that there will never be any lottery funds left after college scholarships are paid out. He used Florida and South Carolina as examples of state lottery funds that do not cover existing college scholarship demands. Gilstrap said if the state gives scholarships out for free, everybody is going to show up to collect their share.
   The proposed Tennessee lottery is different from lotteries already in place in neighboring states. According to Gilstrap, the lotteries in Georgia and Virginia have provisions for lottery funds to go directly to K-12 education. Gilstrap warned against adopting the mentality that Tennessee's constitutional referendum would result in a lottery identical to those in surrounding states.
   Proponents of the lottery believe it will help with some of the state's financial woes. Sen. Cohen stated the TACIR estimated the lottery would increase sales tax revenues by $10 million.
   However, the GFTA asserts that the lottery will place a larger burden on state government. The alliance believes people would spend their money on tickets that are not taxed instead of purchasing merchandise where state and local governments would collect taxes.
   A survey of 1,200 stores taken by the California Grocers Association, showed an average decline in food sales of seven percent since a lottery has been effective in the state.
   Gilstrap added that in order for the state to raise $300 million for college scholarships, $900 million would have to be spent on lottery tickets, and $900 million in sales will go untaxed. He stated the lottery will result in approximately $63 million lost in annual state sales tax revenue.
   Apart from the educational and economic issues associated with the lottery, the GFTA believes voters should shut down the constitutional referendum because of moral dilemmas. Gilstrap stated that the lottery preys on Tennessee's poorer citizens. According to research completed by Duke University, individuals with incomes lower than $10,000 spend more on the lottery than any other income group.
   "The state ought not to be involved in a business that takes advantage of the poor. This lottery takes the poor people's money and then sends middle and upper class students to college with it," Gilstrap said. "This is a reverse Robin Hood. We are taking from the poor and giving to the rich." According to Gilstrap, poorer students never have the opportunity to receive college scholarships because they have not received the necessary prior education.
   Other moral issues have surfaced in the great debate over Tennessee's lottery referendum. Religious groups fear the lottery will eventually result in the break down of moral fiber in the state.
   Tony Rankin is a family ministry specialist with the Christian Growth Development Group of the Tennessee Baptist Convention. Rankin associates the proposed lottery with gambling, and fears it will negatively effect the family unit as a whole. "Each member of every family constantly has needs of security, predictability, accountability, and responsibility that must be met. When a family member gambles, all four of those needs go unmet," Tony Rankin said.
   Gilstrap stated that the GFTA is not a religious campaign, but believes there are a lot of good reasons to be against the lottery referendum. "It is just not worth it," Gilstrap said.