Casino gambling advocates have launched a new ad campaign that repeats the Lottery Division’s old bromide about how great gambling is because it supports education. Though not a lie — nearly 50 percent of lottery and slot machine revenues go to fund education — the claim has always been a bit misleading.
Its implication, of course, is that without this revenue, the state somehow wouldn’t support education to the degree that it does. How absurd. The state supported education before the lottery came into being and would continue to do so if lottery revenues suddenly dried up. It would just have to get the money elsewhere. (Indeed, most state aid from education does come from taxpayers; lottery revenues account for but a small fraction of the total.)
The point is, of course, that money is fungible: What the state needn’t spend on education, thanks to the lottery, it spends on other things — with the money coming primarily from taxes. By the same token, if the state were not statutorily obligated to use gambling revenue for education, it would use it for something else — raising education money through taxes.
So it’s just a shell game, really. The state still spends, on every budget line, what the Legislature decides it should spend, and raises taxes accordingly. That some of the money happens to come from another source is balm for weary taxpayers, but gambling advocates — be they Lottery operators or casino gambling advocates — shouldn’t try to kid themselves or anyone else that their endeavor is the reason the state has money for education or any other service, and that taxpayers should somehow be grateful as a result.