The Liberal Position on Video Slots

The Willamette Week (pardon, Pulitzer-Prize winning Willamette Week) today published an interesting bit of news about video slots: poor people lose far more of their paychecks to them than rich people do.

Oregon's 30 highest-grossing ZIP codes (out of more than 400) generated more than half of last year's entire video-lottery proceeds. Almost two-thirds of those top-30 ZIP codes fall below the state average in per-capita income.

Quickie comparison: Lake Oswego, with a median income of $84,192, has 3.2 outlets per 10,000 people and spends $1.2 million a year on them; but in the Kenton to Boise neighborhood (97217 ZIP), the median income is $38,442, there are 16.4 outlets per 10k, and the the sales total a whopping $19.4 million.

Video poker produces revenues for schools (after a kickback to the tavern owners) and it is an optional expenditure, not a tax (leaving aside compulsive gambling), two things liberals love.  Liberals also generally chafe at Republican-style intervention into the legal ways people choose to have fun and spend their own money.  But it's also clear that poorer neighborhoods, where people are trying to make ends meet, are the principal donors to this fund, which makes it seriously regressive.  So what's a good liberal to do?

Discuss.

Comments

  • tunesmith (unverified)
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    I really dislike the lottery for this reason - it's far more popular for those with less money because it's motivated by feelings of desperation and entitlement.

    I've had an idea for a while regarding lottery funding and marketing. I think that for every dollar spent marketing lottery programs, another dollar should be spent educating people about the benefits of an IRA. You've got poor people spending over $25/week on lottery stuff. But $1250/year in a Roth at an average 9% a year is over $150,000 after thirty years.

  • iggi (unverified)
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    i suspect those numbers are slightly skewed as they don't seem to take into account visitors in those zip codes. i tend to pub crawl outside of my own (admittedly low income) zip code and, if i were to gamble, it would be at my destination not my home locale.

    that aside, of course poor people gamble more than rich people -- the lure of a quick gain has more appeal when you're broke than when you're stinkin' rich.

    rather than telling people they can't gamble their pension checks away, why don't we address the issue of poverty itself? i suppose because its too big of an issue and its easier just to take more away from those who don't much of anything in the first place.

    no smoking - no drugs/alcohol - no pornography - no gambling. how boring.

    get used to your miserable lives suckers or Jesus will kick your ass.

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    That's an interesting point, Iggi. I wonder if there's any way to weight the samples? I mean, who goes bar-hopping in Lake O?

  • David Wright (unverified)
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    "[O]f course poor people gamble more than rich people -- the lure of a quick gain has more appeal when you're broke than when you're stinkin' rich."

    Actually, there was a discussion about this on NPR/OPB Radio a couple of weeks ago, from a series about Oregon gaming issues on Oregon Considered as I recall. I've tried to find references on the OPB web site, but have been unsuccessful -- if anyone else has information on this, I'd appreciate seeing it.

    Anyhow, part of the discussion I caught was about the demographics of casino gamers versus lottery players, and examining who gambles, where, and why.

    The thing is, poor people don't necessarily gamble more than other people. But they gamble for different reasons certainly.

    The rich tend to favor casinos almost exclusively, and almost never play the lottery, because as the commentator on the radio said if you've already got a million bucks what's the allure of the Megabucks jackpot?

    The poor tend to favor the lottery almost exclusively, especially the lotto-style games for that life-altering payout, and rarely play in casinos.

    The broad middle class tends to favor casinos more than the lottery, but does play a mix.

    Video poker doesn't offer the huge payouts (no more than $600 by law) but does offer interactive entertainment value and thus tends to be favored more by the affluent than other lottery games.

    You know that disclaimer on every Lottery advertisement, about how games are based on chance and should be played for entertainment purposes only, not investment?

    For the affluent, gaming really is entertainment, and they spend a lot of money on it, but they tend to get a fair amount back as well.

    For the poor, the lottery is an investment, and a very risky one at that.

    Anyhow, this may not be the "good liberal" viewpoint, but here's how I see it:

    Ultimately, just as you can't legislate morality, you can't legislate intelligence either. We don't prevent wealthy people from making bad investment decisions, why should we prevent poor people from doing so? (OK, I'm sure that's not the "good liberal" view...)

    I'm with tunesmith on this one -- education is key. If people know how much more secure their money would be in a retirement account than in the video poker machine, and then still want to play the lottery, we shouldn't stop them.

    But of course we'd have to change the charter for the lottery first, because counter-advertising to discourage people from playing is not exactly "maximizing profits for the people of Oregon"...

  • Terry (unverified)
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    I thought everybody knew that gambling is a regressive tax. Every study I've read concludes that the revenue raised isn't worth the social misery occasioned by state sanctioned gambling.

  • Gregor (unverified)
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    I think we have just made the argument for Dubya's personal savings account. If people are going to be gambling, at least they can support Wall Street. And aren't we supposed to get a trickle if we do? I haven't gotten my trickle yet, but evidently that is all I need.

    A study was done of pigeons with the old red and green buttons. Red meant nothing, green meant food. When the bird was hungry, he learned to peck green. Then they changed green to a random reward and the bird ate himself to death perpetually pressing the button until something came out which he ate immediately and returned to pecking. He pecked and ate until he died of a birdseed overdose.

    Gambling can turn people into pigeons. Maybe we should educate people about that and nothing more. It says it all, really. Then give them their freedom and take the money for schools. No pigeon left behind and all that.

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    If in fact the poor (and poorly educated) are greater contributors to the state lottery, we shouldn't be surprised but we should be ashamed. I've always been in favor of allowing gaming and the taxing therof. I've always opposed the state using direct gambling revenues to fund state programs.

    The state already arrogates to itself the exclusive right to the vending of packaged hard liquor, which I also oppose. Following this logic, the state should be aggressively marketing black tar heroin and crank...er meth...You know, screw the addicts. They are, after all, adults and should be responsible for their own behavior and if this is a potential cash cow the state should be cashing in. Right?

    Bottom line? I do believe in the legalization and taxation of most so-called vices, but I don't think that the state should become the dope dealer in the process. The state loses its moral authority when it engages in active advocacy for behaviors that damage families.

    I do agree with David Wright that education is key, but I'd add that honest education regarding "vices" is an extreme longshot given our record so far.......

  • Steve Bucknum (unverified)
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    Hi think Iggi has a point, but doesn't go far enough. Not only are the numbers skewed by local Portland travel to locations to use the games, but they are skewed by another level of the demographic. Perhaps the Lake Oswego crowd does their gambling at Lake Tahoe, or Monte Carlo, or Wall Street.

    Gambling happens at all levels of society, but like a lot of issues, income level determines the way we play. So, 97217 might stay close to home. You can moralize all you want on this issue, but people gamble. Prior to the lottery, there was lots of illegal gambling in North Portland. I know, I grew up there. Is there more or less now? - hard to tell.

    I think gambling is like a lot of other "sins". People will do lots of addictive things whether it is alcohol and other drugs, tobacco, over eating, or gambling. Perhaps the best we can do with these problem areas is to put the government in charge, make sure revenue is generated by these "sins", and then to make sure treatment is available when the poor wayward people want to turn their lives around. In fact, that is exactly what we do with gambling, and alcohol and other drug addiction.

    Perhaps we should be talking about over-eating.

  • John McGuire (unverified)
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    Very interesting discussion! As a recovering compulsive gambler myself I am often confronted with some of this problem as I meet newcomers in my recovery program. My view is as someone pointed out above that "you cannot legistlate morality". Has the increase in legalized gambling given already susceptible (Sp?) people more opportunity to cross the line into irresponsible gambling. Absolutely. Does this mean everyone else should be prohibited in engaging in a legal activity they enjoy. In my view no. I say they even with all the problems gambling caused.

    Anyway, I ll keep following the topic and have posted a link to your post on my blog.

    Thanks.

    John

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    Let's call the lottery what it is: a tax on stupidity. Paddy McGuire (no relation to John that I know of)

  • Peter Drake (unverified)
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    I like to call the lottery a tax on people who can't do math. While I've long suspected that it mainly extracts money from the desperate, this is the first empricial evidence I've encountered either way.

    I think there's a wide line between legislating morality and making money at the expense of others. One doesn't have to demand the outlawing of gambling to think it's a bad idea for the state to be dependent on gambling for income.

    Incidentally, I don't think it's illiberal for the state to step in to protect people from themselves (or those who would exploit their ignorance). Isn't this why we have Social Security, the FDA, FCC, FDIC, mandatory car insurance, truth in advertising laws, etc.?

  • no one in particular (unverified)
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    Video poker produces revenues for schools ... and it is an optional expenditure, not a tax ..., two things liberals love.

    Do "liberals" really love optional expenditures, not taxes? Personally, I'd love to jack up our taxes so that people have less optional expenditures (health care should be free, it would be nice if college was cheaper and/or free, etc.)

    Isn't taxation to provide services (rather than charging for them) a big part of a liberal agenda, or am I just a socialist hippy?

  • andrew kaza (unverified)
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    As Terry says (I paraphrase), of course "legal gambling" is regressive. It's also a slippery slope we've been on since the Lottery was introduced and exacerbated by the expansion of Native American casinos (somehow I think Chief Joseph rolls in his grave at that thought). There's no turning back the clock, and the enormous popularity of it all probably means a casino in/much nearer Portland in our lifetime (sadly). What's a good liberal to do? Think of the right way to invest those badly needed proceeds, including some help to the McGuires of this world cope with their problem. Oh, and keep dog racing alive - it is an Oregon-born industry y'know, and why should we favor one form of gambling over another?

  • tunesmith (unverified)
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    I guess I'm surprised to see the prevalence of the "you can't legislate morality" argument here, applied to gambling. I agree that people need to be responsible for their own choices, etc, but this is the state marketing the lottery. It drives demand for bad savings habits. It's not legislating morality to be in support of the state turning OFF a program that we're not entitled to.

  • (Show?)

    Here's a nuanced position for ya, Jeff....

    I oppose video slots and video poker, but I favor large-scale casinos. Why? Because video gambling in local bars preys on the low-income locals, the alcoholics, and the invisible gambling addicted. Casinos, on the other hand, tend to draw tourists, and middle- and high-income day-trippers. (Obviously, there are gambling addicts in casinos, too, but with greater centralization, we can provide diversion services on-site. Casinos won't like it, but we should demand it.)

    I also think that there are things we can do to ensure that gambling doesn't get out of control:

    • Put all funds into a state endowment, not today's operational funds. This would reduce the political incentive to boost immediate revenues.

    • Ban advertising. Even the "lottery does good things" kind. (Unless we allow all agencies to run ads declaring they do good things.)

    • Set the games to return at least 90% of dollars wagered as prizes. Anything less is unsporting and should be criminal.

    • Pay the bar owners a set rental fee for the space - not a percentage of revenues. Barring that reform, set a hard cap on poker machine revenues as a percentage of total revenue. Want more gambling revenue? Sell more food and raise the booze prices. (Reduces incentives for cheap drinks to keep gamblers at the machines.)

    • Finally, set aside one Megabucks jackpot per biennium to be drawn from the pool of folks who voted in the general election.

  • phriedom (unverified)
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    "Oh, and keep dog racing alive - it is an Oregon-born industry y'know, and why should we favor one form of gambling over another?"

    Isn't that self contradictory? If we shouldn't favor one form over another, why do something special for dogs? And no, tradition isn't a good reason.

    But seriously, I identify with the original poster's question. I'm all in favor of a voluntary revenue source, but I feel badly that it is disproportionately paid for by the poor, who could benefit the most from wise money management.

    But on the other hand, ARE they really playing it for investment purposes? Or are poor people playing for entertainment just as we suppose the rich are? I know I get a dollar's worth of entertainment out of it when I buy a ticket, which is about once in a blue moon. I guess I don't like taxing the poor or taking advantage of their desparation, but I'm not sure that is what we have going on here.

  • phriedom (unverified)
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    Boy, did I totally miss that this is about video slots, not lotto, but I guess my point is the same. I don't like the state preying on the poor, but I'm not sure they would be putting the money in a 401k if there slots were not there.

  • Colin (unverified)
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    I think tunesmith hit it on the head when he mentioned that the state is involved in marketing the lottery. Having worked/spent too much time in many Portland bars, I can say fairly comfortably that there's something seriously wrong with the way the Oregon Lottery opperates and especially they way they run the video crack machines.

    It seems sick to me that the Lottery gets to tell everyone that it's okay to gamble because the money goes to the schools. And no, if the machines weren't there or there weren't as many, people who play compulsively probably wouldn't decide to put the money into a retirement plan instead, but I think it's bad form for the state government to be promoting unhealth choices as something okay.

    It's a poor and dumb tax, it's a restaurant subsidy and it's a bad way to provide funding for schools. While a good number of businesses would probably be broken if the videopoker system was reformed, (Think Dotty's) Oregon could get by with a few fewer bars. After you've seen (countless times) someone trade in a handful of change for one more dollar to feed to the machine, you begin to realize there's a serious problem. We need to slash the retailer's cut, regardless to the effect on revenue.

  • afs (unverified)
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    People opposed to the lottery tend to forget in their reasoning that one of the reasons state lotteries were started was as a replacement for organized crime numbers rackets. Today, the gambling genie is out of the bottle and people have to go no further than a home computer to get their gambling fix. Online poker rooms have become huge. Attempts to regulate internet casino and sports gambling have been basically pointless. The gambling website operators set up shop outside the borders of the US. Short of unplugging the internet, there is nothing that can be done to stop US traffic to these websites.

    So, lets be clear what we are really discussing. Stopping people from gambling that want to gamble is not an option that is on the table. If state lotteries were banned tomorrow, organized crime would fill the void like they used to do with numbers operations. All that can be done is make gambling slightly less convenient when people are out of the house. As people can sign in to poker room sites whenever they want, I would imagine that state lotteries will start feeling competition from those websites any day now anyway.

    The one area I would like to see controlled is the advertising of these various state lottery games. I personally don't have a problem with informational or instructional ads. It's the over the top "sexing-up" of some of these games I'd like to see stopped. Regulations that limit the portrayal of these games in advertising to exact representations of the actual game involved seems reasonable. People create enough fantasies of what will happen when they "hit the jackpot." They don't need to be aided by all the dancing girls and marching bands that appear from the ether when someone plays a scratcher in a lottery ad.

  • (Show?)

    Reading through the thread, here are a few scattershot observations:

    I like to call the lottery a tax on people who can't do math.

    Peter, I understand this position, but I disagree with it. It assumes that poor people are less intelligent than wealthy folks. If you link gambling at all to rational decision-making, you must blame education, more freely-available to the wealthy than the poor, not intelligence. But even that is off base. Looking at the patterns of behavior in other dimensions of consumption, poor and wealthy seem to make their decisions pretty much based on the same factors. Instead, call the lottery what it is: a tax on desperation.

    Do "liberals" really love optional expenditures, not taxes?

    Well, we love spending, and the lottery has that same sin-tax kind of patina. But your larger point is exactly right on. Though maybe I'm a commie, my damn self.

    A final point. Gambling comes right out of the conservative playbook. It perfectly mirrors the GOP's interest in shifting risk from the government to the people. It falsely promises "ownership" while delivering impoverishment (which I guess you "own"). And it shifts the focus from a societal discussion of civic good and civic involvement to the individual. This means the GOP can raise revenues without political cost and continue to argue for tax cuts and mock "entitlements" and "big government."

    What we need is an honest discussion of public policy and civic priorities. The lottery abets the GOP in delaying this discussion until a crisis forces it--when, of course, we'll be left with far fewer options.

  • (Show?)

    Isn't taxation to provide services (rather than charging for them) a big part of a liberal agenda, or am I just a socialist hippy?

    Do "liberals" really love optional expenditures, not taxes?

    Well, we love spending, and the lottery has that same sin-tax kind of patina.

    No One and Jeff are both wrong here. Real liberals are anything but socialists or communists. Liberals don't like high taxes or high spending or big government. You've both been suckered in by the conservative re-definition of what liberalism has historically stood for.

    See my post on the definition of liberalism from last year.

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    By the way, I suspect that the "liberal" position on gambling would be to certainly allow it, but not rely on it to fund a significant portion of government activities.

    Personally, I think it's morally objectionable to fund government programs with lottery revenues that function as a regressive tax on the poor. We should either raise the revenue more equitably, from income, property, sales, or VAT taxes, or do without it.

  • (Show?)

    Adam, that was a flippant response (which should have been obvious by the final two paragraphs of my comment). I agree with everything Kari wrote above, to the letter. He's right on.

    Though you are mistaken to try to de-link socialism et. al. from liberalism. Just as fascism is an extreme form of conservatism, the collectivist idealism of socialism, marxism, and communism grew directly from liberal goals. Turn of the century gains (20th Century) in labor were completely entwined with socialist and communist rhetoric.

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    Jeff,

    Sorry for the flippant response. I also agree 100% with Kari's proposals in his nuanced position post.

    Of course if we did all that, lottery revenue contributions to state government would decline significantly and we would either have to cut spending or raise revenue from other sources as a result.

    I agree that "Turn of the century gains (20th Century) in labor were completely entwined with socialist and communist rhetoric." That's great and I'm all for that. However, during those times, liberalism stood in contrast to and mostly in opposition to socialism and communism.

    Liberalism at its root has always been economically very pro-market, pro-trade, and pro-business, and the opposite of the more authoritarian philosophies of socialism, communism, fascism, and conservatism.

    I agree with your call for an "honest discussion of public policy and civic priorities." That is what this is really all about, and something Republicans refuse to do. Republicans have been using their “starve the beast” strategy to limit flexibility in funding options while simultaneously insisting that we can have our cake and eat it too – maintain important government functions without having to pay for them. The state lottery has just become a lowest common denominator revenue source that is one of the easier ways out when the parties can't agree on spending and revenue priorities.

  • David Wright (unverified)
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    "I think it's morally objectionable to fund government programs with lottery revenues that function as a regressive tax on the poor. We should either raise the revenue more equitably, from income, property, sales, or VAT taxes, or do without it."

    Isn't the traditional liberal knock on sales taxes that they are considered "regressive"? I presume VAT taxes (which are not as common in the US, if there are any at all) would be viewed the same way. And for that matter, property taxes (while paid only indirectly by the poor who are less likely to own real property but are quite likely to pay rent to those who do) by that definition would have to be considered "regressive" as well.

    So if you find anything that is effectively regressive (even if not technically so) "morally objectionable", you're pretty much talking progressive income taxes only.

    And the problem with basing state revenue streams so heavily on income taxes is the lack of stability in such streams. We're flush during good times, but as we've recently seen during bad times we're out of luck.

    Say, while we're talking about "regressive" taxation, what's wrong with systems that are effectively but not technically regressive? Anything in life that costs everybody the same regardless of income (such as, for example, a gallon of milk at the store) could be defined as being priced "regressively" because a given dollar amount will always be a larger percentage of a lower income. But if the basis for the cost (whether the cost of a product or the cost of a tax) isn't income in the first place, so what?

    Would you suggest that someone who makes $30K should pay twice as much for a gallon of milk as someone who makes $15K? And someone who makes $60K would pay four times as much?

    Oh, of course not. That would be akin to a "proportional tax" and for some reason that's not considered "fair" either. So the person who makes $60K should pay something like 6 or 8 or 10 times what the $15K person pays for milk, right?

    Anyhow, the lottery is a product, not a tax. I pay $1 for a Megabucks ticket, same as anybody else. For that $1 I get the exact same miniscule chance as anybody else to win big, and have the exact same likelihood as anybody else that I'll just lose the $1. Yes, a portion of the proceeds goes to the state, but it's based on usage -- so if you want to think of the lottery as a "fee-for-use" system instead of a tax, that would be accurate. Nuanced, perhaps, but accurate.

    So the $1 cost of the ticket is effectively "regressive"... just like the cost of a gallon of milk or a loaf of bread or a day pass on Tri-Met. So what?

    If the cost of everything was scaled to the purchaser's ability to pay so that it was not at all regressive, there would be no incentive -- ZERO -- to have a greater ability to pay. Why bother getting a job where I can make $100K instead of a job where I can only make $10K, if the $100K doesn't give me any advantage in what I can afford? For that matter, why have a job at all?

  • David Wright (unverified)
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    "Republicans have been using their “starve the beast” strategy to limit flexibility in funding options while simultaneously insisting that we can have our cake and eat it too – maintain important government functions without having to pay for them."

    You're right. This is one of my main problems with my own party. It used to be that we had a clear choice between "tax and spend Democrats" and "slash and burn Republicans".

    Now we have "tax-and-spend Democrats" and "spend-but-don't-tax Republicans". Ugh. It's an enormously irresponsible approach to public finance.

    I will say, though, it seems to me that the Democrats aren't that interested in having an open and honest discussion about "civic priorities" either, because such a discussion would have to include prioritization in light of real costs. The tendency seems to be, let's decide what we want first without regard to cost, then just raise whatever revenues are necessary to pay for it.

    I think that's why a lot of people go along with those irresponsible Republican plans to cut off revenue options without regard to spending needs, as an overreaction to the irresponsible Democratic plans to spend money on whatever strikes their fancy without regard to available revenue. Sort of a double-edged sword there....

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    How about if Democrats and Republicans both agree to stop over-reacting and over-compensating for the perceived irresponsibilities of the other party, and then agree to have an honest discussion of civic priorities and the best means to finance them?

    So if you find anything that is effectively regressive (even if not technically so) "morally objectionable", you're pretty much talking progressive income taxes only.

    The lottery is effectively regressive because it so happens that poorer people participate to a greater degree than richer folks. This isn't the case, presumably, with a gallon of milk.

    Ok, perhaps I overstated my case slightly, for effect. The problem isn't the lottery per se, it's the fact that we keep expanding it and counting on it for an ever greater share of state revenue. It wouldn't be a big deal if we kept it as a small program. Still, it's something I'd rather not see government sponsoring.

  • David Wright (unverified)
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    "How about if Democrats and Republicans both agree to stop over-reacting and over-compensating for the perceived irresponsibilities of the other party, and then agree to have an honest discussion of civic priorities and the best means to finance them?"

    Agreed.

    Now, how do we make it happen? <nobr>  ;-)</nobr>

    On the whole issue of video lottery (and the lottery overall), I can certainly see the point about differentiating between the state allowing a given activity, and the state supplying that activity. There's a perfectly rational distinction to be made there.

    So for those who are opposed to the state-run lottery on "moral" grounds, how would you feel about getting the state out of the lottery business entirely, but allowing private casinos instead (and, of course, taxing those casinos to replace the lost lottery revenue)? As was pointed out before, casino gaming is largely limited to more affluent patrons (although it remains to be seen if this would hold true if the lottery were taken away).

  • Terry (unverified)
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    All the talk about regulating and taxing gambling (and other so-called vices) misses the larger point of the glaring need for tax reform in Oregon to raise adequate revenue for state services. One of those services, thanks to Measure 5, is public education, which today is allotted less money per student than 15 years ago.

    There are many options. The "lberal", or progressive, postion is to tax wealth where it exists. That means corporations, which currently support about 4% of the state's general fund, and wealthy individuals, who thanks to the state's relatively flat income tax, pay a smaller proportion of their incomes in taxes than the state's poorest people.

    That's an outrage.

  • (Show?)

    how would you feel about getting the state out of the lottery business entirely, but allowing private casinos instead (and, of course, taxing those casinos to replace the lost lottery revenue)?

    Theoretically, that would be less objectionable than the status quo, but I wouldn't want to turn Oregon into another Nevada and Portland into another Las Vegas. If you confine your proposal to one casino in the Portland are owned by native american indians, I might be willing to support it.

    I agree more with Terry that our income tax needs reform, and I would add that some kind of VAT tax would be desirable also, in order to capture some revenue from the black market economy and tourists, and thereby lowering the overall tax burden on Oregonians and allowing for lower income taxes to the poorest Oregonians.

    Sales and VAT taxes can be made not regressive (perhaps still not progressive, but not regressive either) by exempting basic food and clothing from the tax.

  • Sid Leader (unverified)
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    You can lead the poor to school, but you can't make them think.

  • Sid Leader (unverified)
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    You can lead the poor to school, but you can't make them think.

  • gus (unverified)
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    In 1984 International Game Technologies funded the signature gathering and election campaign to bring in the lottery. The libertarian in me figured we would throw a buck into a weekly drawing, produce a couple millionaires a month and ten million or so would go annually to economic development.

    Little did I know that Oregon's politicians and government services codependents would get addicted to lottery revenues and that lottery commission employees would get hungry for larger wage and benefit packages fed by increased revenues as more and more games were sold to them by International Game Technologies.

    The Oregon Lottery is also milking its customers by holding 3 Megabucks and 2 Powerball drawings a week. The lottery sells a lot more tickets, but Oregon players win fewer jackpots with odds of winning at 6 million to one in Megabucks and 80 million to one in Powerball.

    If we still had a single Megabucks drawing each week, there would be a lot more tickets bought for each drawing and more frequent jackpot winners. With 3 Megabucks drawings a week the lottery and ticket sellers squeeze a lot more revenue out of players while there are fewer Megabucks winners cashing in much larger jackpots. I would rather see 8 or 10 winners of million dollar jackpots over 4 or 5 months than a single 10 million dollar winner in the same time span.

    It is also interesting to note there have been only 2 Oregon Powerball jackpot winners and a handfull winning $100 thousand prizes in over 1,300 Powerball drawings since 1986.

    The genie is out of the bottle though. Any reduction in Oregon lottery opportunities will see Oregonians crossing over to neighboring states for their lottery fix.

    As with other addictions and dysfunctional behaviors, the best response is to raise children who are primed for positive activities rather than for addictive substances or dysfunctional activities.

  • gus (unverified)
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    Sid:

    Since fools and money are soon parted it is superficial to limit the category only to the poor.

  • Steve Bucknum (unverified)
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    RE: State sponsorship, "marketing", of the Lottery.

    Since prohibition ended in my Grandparents time, Oregon has held a pretty tight hand on the neck of the hard liquor business, and has made a bunch of money from it. I don't think you can divorce the "morality" arguments about gambling from the same arguments about alcohol sales.

  • tunesmith (unverified)
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    So for those who are opposed to the state-run lottery on "moral" grounds, how would you feel about getting the state out of the lottery business entirely, but allowing private casinos instead (and, of course, taxing those casinos to replace the lost lottery revenue)?

    That's a good question, it effectively isolates the part I'm unsure about.

    I really don't like casinos. I guess the libertarian in me would be okay with me, but I do not believe that casinos are morally neutral. They would have to be heavily regulated, I guess, because their existence can easily be predatory.

    There are some political areas where I just don't feel savvy at all, like I've crawled out from under a rock. Native American casinos is one of them. My unadvanced first impression of them is that they are racist. Why the hell can't we just tax the state an equivalent amount, with the tax distributed more equitably, and just give the Native Americans the money? What is it about native americans that makes trafficking in greed okay? Doesn't it just rob dignity? Hell, maybe I'm the racist...

  • David Wright (unverified)
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    Sorry, this is a big 'un as I'm responding to 4 different folks in one post...

    Also, general disclaimer -- as I wrote in another gaming-related thread here a while back, I used to work in the casino industry in Las Vegas several years ago. I am naturally predisposed to support casinos and gambling in general, just as some others on this board are apparently predisposed to oppose casinos. So, grain of salt and all...

    Terry:

    The "liberal", or progressive, postion is to tax wealth where it exists. That means corporations, which currently support about 4% of the state's general fund, and wealthy individuals, who thanks to the state's relatively flat income tax, pay a smaller proportion of their incomes in taxes than the state's poorest people.
    Well, I can certainly admire the pragmatism here. "Why do you rob banks? Because that's where the money is."

    But it doesn't speak to the fairness of taking more money from the wealthy, it merely explains that the state "needed" a certain amount of money, so it took that money from the easiest place it could find it, not necessarily the most appropriate place. Oh well.

    I presume from your comment about wealthy people paying a smaller portion of their income because of the relatively flat tax in Oregon, that you must be including all kinds of taxes overall. Because, of course, the wealthier you are in Oregon the larger your effective income tax rate. There's not a big difference since the 9% marginal rate kicks in at such a low income level, but the wealthy certainly don't pay a smaller percentage in income taxes at least.

    So your proposal to address this is, I assume, to raise the state income tax marginal rates and (I would hope) perhaps shift the tax brackets up from their current location so that the 9% rate doesn't kick in at 6 grand or wherever it is now?

    Adam:

    If you confine your proposal to one casino in the Portland area owned by native american indians, I might be willing to support it.

    May I ask why those restrictions specifically?

    I'd suggest that if you're saying we trade the entire Lottery system for gaming taxes on a single casino in the Portland area, there's not much point. There's no way that we could generate anything like equivalent revenue that way. The only way legalized private casinos make sense for the state from a financial standpoint is if we open things up like Nevada, or Mississippi, or New Jersey, or the various other jurisdictions across the country where this is allowed. Otherwise we really should just stick with the Lottery.

    Your suggestion about implementing sales/VAT taxes as a way to shift some tax revenue burden onto visitors is worth looking at. I would hope, though, that part of that plan would be the elimination or at least drastic reduction in income taxes at all levels to go along with that. Otherwise you're just adding higher taxes to the mix and that's a non-starter (as it has been here for, what, a dozen tries at least?)

    I'm all for a sales/VAT tax as a replacement, not a supplement, for income taxes. Hell, I'd even take a straight-across 9% sales tax (with appropriate exemptions for food, medicine, clothing, etc.) for our 9% income tax. Capture some of that multi-billion-dollar tourism trade from outside the state, and give a break to most of us who are far into that 9% bracket.

    Gus:

    You're right about Oregon only having 2 Powerball jackpot winners out of 1342 draws (as of February 2005). But of the 29 participating states, Oregon ranks #15 in total lifetime sales, #20 in average sales per drawing, and #21 in total jackpot values won. Put another way, Oregon has just over 1% of the total jackpot winners, just under 1% of the total jackpot winnings, and has contributed just over 3% of the total sales to the system -- but has participated in nearly 5% of the total state-draws.

    Point being, when you slice and dice the numbers, Oregon has come out slightly worse off than the odds would predict, but not by a whole lot, because as a state we don't participate as much as most others do. Some other states, such as Connecticut and Arizona, have done worse than Oregon relative to participation. Indiana has done substantially better.

    And none of this accounts for the frequency with which Oregonians pay for the "power play" which increases sales (and potential lower-level payouts) without actually increasing the odds of winning. In other words, the number of tickets sold in Oregon may be even lower than our total sales figure would imply, which would make our actual results more understandable.

    Your comments about fewer drawings resulting in more winners for less money per winner don't make sense though. If you have fewer drawings, and proportionately fewer tickets sold, you will theoretically have exactly the same number of winners for exactly the same amount per winner, but less often. So having more or fewer winners, with higher or lower prizes per winner, depends on the relationship between frequency of drawing and number of tickets sold.

    In other words, if we went from 3 per week to 1 per week, and that single drawing had 3 times as many tickets sold, you'd presumably have 3 times the increase in jackpot size to go with 3 times the number of possible winners, 1/3rd as often. It all basically comes out in the wash.

    If you had 4 times as many tickets per drawing, 1/3rd as often, you'd have 4/3 as many winners. But if you only had 2 times as many tickets per drawing, you'd only have 2/3 as many winners. And in any event, the dollars per winner should remain fairly steady throughout.

    Anyhow, ticket sales are not driven as much by frequency of drawing as by prize amount. More tickets per drawing are sold when the current jackpot is higher. Reducing the frequency of the draw without increasing the rate at which the jackpot grows (by more than a proportional amount) would not have the effect you desire of spreading the jackpots around more.

    As I recall, Washington had a problem with one of their games, the system as set up was too successful. Winning numbers came up too often, resulting in more winners, but of course lower jackpots (since the jackpots reset so often) which reduced player interest and thus sales; meanwhile, because the winning numbers were hitting before the state could take in enough in sales to cover the prize fund, the state was losing money at it. Unintended consequences of trying to "spread the wealth" too much.

    Tunesmith:

    Why the hell can't we just tax the state an equivalent amount, with the tax distributed more equitably, and just give the Native Americans the money?

    Because as I said before casinos actually do sell a product, whether you like that product or not (and I certainly understand that a lot of people here do not). There's an exchange of money for something (the chance to win and the entertainment associated with that) even if the net result of what you bought is usually nothing at all. But if we just take the money in the form of a tax and then hand it over to the Native Americans, those who pay the tax haven't gotten anything for that money. Then it really is a simple transfer/welfare payment. And I would argue that such a scheme would be far more of an affront to anyone's dignity than allowing that person to run a casino.

    But then, if it's your opinion that casinos basically "traffic in greed" then I don't reckon there's any scenario under which a casino would really be acceptable to you.

    As far as casinos being predatory, I think that gets back to your general dislike of gambling in general, and concerns about the market segments to whom gaming appeals. But again, casino patrons tend not to be the poorest among us, generally those who go to casinos are relatively well off. And casinos as a rule typically operate on only 10-20% gross margins, depending on the mix of games, which is fairly modest I think by business standards.

  • tunesmith (unverified)
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    David, well, it looks like we've reduced this down to the the old argument of when people should be protected from predatory inputs, or as some might like to put it, protected from themselves since there are no such thing as predatory inputs. Did you support the bankruptcy bill?

    There's a pattern where people seek to "defend" the people they're taking benefits away from by standing up for their independence, without seeking to address the systems that create the demand for that dependency. It's tearing away the band-aid without cleaning the wound. That's the affront to dignity.

    I'm sort of hazy on whether Native American casinos honors or demeans their culture, but from the perspective of state services, I believe that if a state is marketing gambling, then the state is contributing to a process that victimizes some people. The point is this is a situation where averages should not apply. Even if on average, the middle and upper class people make the entire population get a net benefit in entertainment, it would still result in some of the poor being pushed past the breaking point. It's not a fair tradeoff, and it's wrong.

    Don't misunderstand my "trafficking in greed" statement. I'm referring to the kind of greed that makes one comfortable in compromising things that should not be compromised. For instance, a state that will trade in the desperation of a person near poverty for a nicer looking balance sheet. And in that particular context, I was asking about the people who are opposed to casinos except in the case of native american casinos. But I don't personally care as much about a tourist gambling some vacation money.

    Finally, I don't see a wealth transfer as an affront to dignity if the group receiving it deserves the money.

  • David Wright (unverified)
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    Tunesmith,

    Quick answer to your question, no I certainly did not support the bankruptcy bill, though likely for very different reasons than (I presume) you. I'd love to discuss that issue in depth, but it's way off topic for this thread. ;-)

    Now, I'm very curious about some of the boundaries of your philosophy here, to get a better feel for where you're coming from. I hope these comments/questions are taken in the spirit they are intended, not to deride your views but simply to explore them.

    You lay out the premise that gambling victimizes some people (based on your other comments I presume you mean those "near poverty", but please correct me if I'm wrong about that). And you say that in such a case, "averages" should not apply.

    So, first question... at what point, if any, does the "victimization" of a citizen become more important than the average affect on all citizens? Is a single victim sufficient? A particular percentage of the population? A particular number?

    Second question, you specifically took issue with the state "marketing gambling". Did you mean the actual advertisement as an encouragement to get more people to play, or the more general sense of the state supplying the gambling venue? For example, would you be as opposed to the state lottery system if, by law, the lottery commission was not allowed to advertise or otherwise encourage people to play?

    You are opposed to the state deriving income from activities undertaken by desperate people near poverty (I'm paraphrasing here, if I've missed the mark again please correct me). Do you draw any distinction between the state deriving revenue as vendor, versus the state deriving revenue as the taxing authority? Again from your other comments, it seems that you do not. So the state merely taxing a private casino is essentially the moral equivalent of the state running a casino?

    Are there other activities from which the state derives revenues, either directly or indirectly, that also "victimize" some desperate people? I'm thinking off the top of my head (as others have mentioned) alcohol and tobacco taxes, perhaps there are other examples as well. Are you opposed to those taxes too, as they may also be effectively regressive?

    Finally, I'd like to explore that fundamental issue of "victimization". What do you feel it is, exactly, that makes some people a "victim" of gambling? Does free will enter into the equation at all, or is it overridden by some other factor? Is it possible to choose to act in some way, and still be victimized by that action? Or, do you not feel that those who gamble actually have a choice in the matter? You mentioned that you didn't particularly care about a tourist gambling some vacation money, so I presume that you don't feel the act itself is inherently victimizing. So at what point does the transition from a tourist gambling $10 on video poker in a casino to a poor person gambling $10 on video poker in a casino become victimization, and why?

    Thanks for taking the time to discuss these issues!

  • gus (unverified)
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    David:

    I appreciate your response to my post. We agree that Powerball has had 29 participants and had 1342 drawings as of the date of the chart I linked. I believe it would have been more relevant to compare Oregonians' winnings against the other 14 states that participated in 1342 Powerball drawings. For the same reason, I do not think Arizona and Connecticut (fewer drawings) are good for comparison with Oregon results.

    I agree that ticket sales for Oregon Megabucks increasees with jackpot size. However, there are a substantial number of players who are "invested" in their same set of numbers in drawing after drawing. Those folks are being "milked" by having 3 Megabucks drawings weekly rather than a single one.

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    David,

    This from Terry- wealthy individuals, who thanks to the state's relatively flat income tax, pay a smaller proportion of their incomes in taxes than the state's poorest people.

    Your response-I presume from your comment about wealthy people paying a smaller portion of their income because of the relatively flat tax in Oregon, that you must be including all kinds of taxes overall. Because, of course, the wealthier you are in Oregon the larger your effective income tax rate. There's not a big difference since the 9% marginal rate kicks in at such a low income level, but the wealthy certainly don't pay a smaller percentage in income taxes at least.

    The wealthy (and all the rest of us that pay 9%) do indeed pay a lot lower percentage of our total income in taxes of all kinds. So asking corporations and wealthy individuals to pay at least the same amount of their income in taxes as a 7/11 clerk or a Walmart employee seems pretty danged fair to me.

  • David Wright (unverified)
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    Gus:

    True enough, Oregon has been in the Powerball system since its inception. But that was the point of comparing total sales and per-draw sales figures. It matters far less how many drawings Oregon has been around for compared to other states, what really matters is how many opportunities to win (roughly but not exactly corresponding to total and per-draw sales) Oregonians have had. Hence, adjusted for the amount of play (number of tickets, or rather sets of numbers sold) Oregon's low absolute number of winners doesn't look quite as unreasonable as just looking at 2 out of 1342.

    But still, it serves as a pretty stark example of how long the odds are in the first place. ;-)

    You are right about people who consistently play the same numbers having to pay more to play more. But on the other hand, they also have 3 times as many opportunities to win commensurate with that increased cost (and the state is exposed to three times the potential liability as well, at least for the lower-level prizes).

    But I definitely see your point about the "milking". If, on average, you get say 1/4 of your money back with one drawing a week, those odds don't change with three drawings per week and you still get 1/4 of your money back. But in absolute dollars, the 3/4 that you lost is a lot bigger.

    And that's consistent with the Lottery's mandate to "maximize profits". Perhaps ultimately that profit motive is the root of the problem people seem to have with the lottery? Just a thought. Of course, without the profit motive for the state the lottery wouldn't make any sense at all, it's absolutely integral to the concept.

  • David Wright (unverified)
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    Pat:

    Point taken. Let me ask, how do you propose making sure that the wealthy pay at least as much of their income in overall taxes as the poor?

    Another way to say that -- of all the various forms of state taxation, are there taxes other than the income tax that could be adjusted to ensure more income-equity? If so, how would you do it? If not, would you propose eliminating all other taxes and relying exclusively on income tax?

  • tunesmith (unverified)
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    Hi David,

    Taking your questions at face value:

    So, first question... at what point, if any, does the "victimization" of a citizen become more important than the average affect on all citizens? Is a single victim sufficient? A particular percentage of the population? A particular number?

    I don't know. But I also believe it is wrong to say that if one cannot identify a particular percentage, that it is a lost cause to improve it. I think the percentage is too high right now, and I think we should be investing more effort in improving it. I do believe that some people just cannot be helped until they are ready to be helped. But I don't believe that to be justification to not help others.

    Second question, you specifically took issue with the state "marketing gambling". Did you mean the actual advertisement as an encouragement to get more people to play, or the more general sense of the state supplying the gambling venue? For example, would you be as opposed to the state lottery system if, by law, the lottery commission was not allowed to advertise or otherwise encourage people to play?

    It is mostly the advertising that I have an issue with. That is more "predatory" than the simple existence of a venue. I am fine with moving incrementally. If the advertising is dealt with, then we could more responsibly look at how the mere existence of these venues affects the financial health of our citizens.

    I still like the idea of requiring that half a lottery's advertisement fund be spent on advertising IRAs and educating people about them. No, I don't believe that it would mean that if everyone saw the advertisements, that they would choose to invest in retirement instead of play in the lottery. But I do believe that IRA investment would increase.

    You are opposed to the state deriving income from activities undertaken by desperate people near poverty (I'm paraphrasing here, if I've missed the mark again please correct me). Do you draw any distinction between the state deriving revenue as vendor, versus the state deriving revenue as the taxing authority? Again from your other comments, it seems that you do not. So the state merely taxing a private casino is essentially the moral equivalent of the state running a casino?

    I think your first statement is an improper generalization. I am opposed to the state deriving lottery or gambling-related income from people near poverty. I think the state taxing a private casino, for the sake of argument, is superior to the state running a casino. They should also be heavily regulated. I would of course prefer there not be any casinos at all.

    Are there other activities from which the state derives revenues, either directly or indirectly, that also "victimize" some desperate people? I'm thinking off the top of my head (as others have mentioned) alcohol and tobacco taxes, perhaps there are other examples as well. Are you opposed to those taxes too, as they may also be effectively regressive?

    Honestly, I've always had a problem with cigarette taxes, because it puts the state in the position of being dependent on an income stream that they are trying to shrink. It seems silly to me. And I also do not like the regressive nature of it. I am not up on this subject, but it automatically makes me wonder if there are other more responsible policies to pursue that would lessen the demand of smoking, without levying a tax.

    Alcohol is a different category for me because I believe drinking alcohol in moderation is healthy, with wine anyway, and maybe with other forms. Again, I'm not very up on the subject. But even there I don't see why they should be taxed more than other goods. Even if you accept for argument that alcohol is immoral, the concept of taxing immorality is pretty repugnant. If you can't beat it, make some money off of it? Where's the morality in that?

    Finally, I'd like to explore that fundamental issue of "victimization". What do you feel it is, exactly, that makes some people a "victim" of gambling? Does free will enter into the equation at all, or is it overridden by some other factor? Is it possible to choose to act in some way, and still be victimized by that action? Or, do you not feel that those who gamble actually have a choice in the matter?

    Deep stuff. :-) Yes, we have free will, but we also only have so much willpower. Just because I have freedom of choice does not mean I should have to put up with someone trying to tempt me all the time. Even Jesus said, "Begone, Satan." It is not reasonable to expect someone to be as strong in the face of predatory input as they would be in the absence of that input. It is not human to blame them if they weaken as a result of it. I'm clearly not giving you the clear delineation that you want, but I believe that is because there isn't one.

    You mentioned that you didn't particularly care about a tourist gambling some vacation money, so I presume that you don't feel the act itself is inherently victimizing. So at what point does the transition from a tourist gambling $10 on video poker in a casino to a poor person gambling $10 on video poker in a casino become victimization, and why?

    At the point where the person needs that $10.

  • David Wright (unverified)
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    Thanks for taking the time to respond, Tunesmith. You've given me a lot to think about! ;-)

    I guess the hang-up I have with what you said revolves around the whole "victim" thing. It's an interesting question, though.

    I certainly agree that the state shouldn't be promoting the victimization of its citizens. I guess I just disagree on who qualifies as a victim.

    I do take your point about constant temptation. But it seems to me that the entire advertising industry is built on temptation. Whatever the product is that they're trying to sell, they are trying to tempt you to buy. Whether it's the lottery, or a new car, or a pair of jeans, or a Big Mac. Or, for that matter, an IRA. ;-)

    And I also take your point about the person needing their $10 (presumably for some other critical expense, like food or rent). However, such people are surrounded by all kinds of other temptations as well. The person might as easily spend that $10 on a new CD instead of on rent. Is music advertising therefore predatory? Granted, the state isn't advertising (or even selling) music CDs. But I think if you want to protect people from making bad decisions with their money, that truly is a lost cause.

    And I also don't think that holding poor people somehow less responsible for their actions than rich people makes much sense.

    Your point about "predatory input" -- do you think that's predatory no matter who is subject to it? For example, if a rich person and a poor person both see the same lottery ad on TV, is it predatory for both of them?

    I guess that's another hangup I have here. You mention that you don't really like casinos at all, which is fair enough. But you seem willing to tolerate them as long as people can afford to lose their money, but you feel that they prey on those who can't afford to lose their money.

    My perspective is, an activity itself is either good or bad (or neutral) regardless of who engages in it. To the extent that the exact same activity has different outcomes for different people, that rests on the people and not the activity. So if the lottery preys on poor people, it must also prey on rich people as well. If the lottery does not prey on rich people, it must not prey on poor people, either. The rules of the game, after all, are the same for everyone.

    By the way, on the issue of weakness in the face of temptation -- we might not blame someone for their humanity, and we should certainly offer forgiveness for their transgressions (with contrition, of course) -- but that does not absolve the person from responsibility for their actions, does it? I can think of any number of temptations in life that one might succumb to, but we still generally expect people to resist those temptations, or to recognize their own weakness in the face of those temptations and therefore avoid them.

    Just as one example to illustrate my point, if a man is tempted to cheat on his wife, and in the face of that temptation does in fact cheat on his wife, is he a "victim" of the woman who tempted him? Or is he responsible for his own actions in that case?

    I realize that the state isn't advertising to tempt people into infidelity with their spouses. But the larger point here is, what makes a person a victim? If a person can be held responsible for his own actions in the face of inputs (predatory or not) from entities other than the state, then what does it matter whether the state provides those inputs? On the other hand, if a person can not be held responsible for those actions because of the inputs, then what does it matter who provides those inputs in the first place, or who received those inputs?

    Tough and somewhat uncomfortable questions, I think, but fairly important to where people come down on the issue of state-sanctioned gambling (either lottery or casinos, etc.)

  • gus (unverified)
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    David:

    I found it most revealing to compare Oregon's jackpot and hundred thousand dollar prize winnings as a percent of total dollars played over 1342 drawings. Oregon's sub 20% return is miniscule compared to Idaho's plus 60% return. Similar shortfalls also exist between Oregon and most other "1342" states. They also represent a flow of money out of Oregon thanks to the lottery commission putting Oregon in the multi-state Powerball game.

    I say aye to your statement "Perhaps ultimately that profit motive is the root of the problem people seem to have with the lottery?" I notice similar attitudes from several others who want to limit the "profit motive" and "house advantage" the lottery commission has assumed for itself over the years with the encouragement of various groups clamoring for more government funding.

    Perhaps it is naive to think a successful state lottery can run without the Oregon commission's excessive (to me) "profit motive". As a player though, I restrict my lottery ticket purchases to Megabucks jackpots in excess of 10 million and I avoid Powerball. I avoid entirely the Oregon casinos. I prefer the atmosphere and odds in Nevada.

  • tunesmith (unverified)
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    Hi David -

    I think the thing we're hung up on is how we choose to abstract things out.

    Advertising. It's not good, or bad, or neutral. It's like "John". John isn't good, or bad, or neutral. John Wilkes Booth was bad. St. John the Baptist was good. John Smith down the street, I don't know him. John in general? That doesn't even make sense. I mean, John's based on life, and the urge to protect himself, and perpetuate his life, but that's not enough to judge him. There's a point where it doesn't make sense to abstract something out.

    Now, the use of advertising? Fine if it's in a magazine you buy. Highway billboard? I'm not so sure. The highway billboards with moving pictures you see in Washington? They're awful. I imagine there are targetted laws against them here. At least, I haven't seen them in Oregon.

    To the extent that the exact same activity has different outcomes for different people, that rests on the people and not the activity.

    I just don't see how you can even defend this philosophy. Systems are buggy. They have corner cases. A set of rules can intersect in bizarre, corrupted fashion a small percentage of the time. The person that was victimized by the bug shouldn't be blamed for that.

    Beyond that, I think you're starting to play dumb a little bit. The music cd comparison ignores the entire point of this whole discussion. Buying a music cd isn't comparible with the lottery because we're talking about desperation and need to get out of poverty driving lottery demand. Music cds aren't marketed as a ticket to the high life.

    Just as one example to illustrate my point, if a man is tempted to cheat on his wife, and in the face of that temptation does in fact cheat on his wife, is he a "victim" of the woman who tempted him? Or is he responsible for his own actions in that case?

    You don't seem to like the "both" answer. Yes, of course people are responsible for their choices. And yes, of course the tempter can be held responsible as well. It's silly to expect greater willpower as the only solution. The absence of either is a sufficient condition. And sometimes the victimization becomes systematic. You can either hope that every single victim gets their act together independently, or you can move to tweak the system. If you can tweak the system, then which is more efficient for a collective improvement?

    It seems like you're trying to seize on some general rules in what I'm saying. I'm getting a bit of "absolutist/relativist" vibe from our discussion. I look at this stuff more as ecological systems than I do as rule-following systems. When a system is designed, it grows and evolves over time. It doesn't always make sense, when you find a flaw, to assert a brand new rule onto the entire system. It's better to just fix the flaw. It's even better to first design the system so that you can adapt to its new requirements extremely quickly. If you get too rules-based, then a growing system restricted by those still-existing but invalid rules can get pretty corrupted pretty easily. (Government flunks most of these tests.)

    Anyway, if you want a principle, try this: a government trying to fight a problem should not advantage from something that makes the problem worse.

  • David Wright (unverified)
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    Tunesmith, sorry, but you lost me a bit there when you started talking about extreme abstractions. I bring up illustrative examples which do show my points in the abstract, but they are reasonably narrow points I think.

    For example, the music CD purchase. You said that the lottery victimizes a poor person when that poor person spends $10 on the lottery that he otherwise needs for something else. And my point was that the poor person who spends $10 on something he doesn't strictly need, whatever that thing might be, is responsible for his own actions.

    In fact, I could argue the case that spending your last $10 on a music CD is more irresponsible than spending it on lottery tickets, regardless of any advertising that you may be subject to. The reason being, the music CD offers zero chance to improve your financial situation. The lottery tickets, while highly unlikely, at least offer a non-zero chance to improve your financial situation.

    But either spending choice you make is far less responsible than using that $10 on food or rent.

    Now, as to my assertion that the exact same activity having different outcomes for different people resting on the person and not the activity -- I probably was not specific enough with my use of the term "outcome". Here's my explanation/defense:

    The "activity" in this case is spending $10 on lottery tickets. Two people of different income levels buy the same kind of tickets at the same store. The "system" treats each the same -- both have spent the same amount of money, both have the exact same chance to win the same prizes.

    The rules of the game do not depend on how much relative "risk" you take when you buy the ticket. The prize outcome (whether you win or not) is based on pure chance and the absolute amount of money you risked, not the relative amount. And since it's based on chance, of course I'm not arguing that if one guy plays $10 on the lottery and loses but someone else plays $10 and wins, the winning and losing rests with the person and not the game.

    But the "outcome" of how that risk affects you, particularly if you lose, is entirely dependent on the person and not the game.

    If I spend $10 on lottery tickets and don't win anything, I'm not going to miss a meal or a rent payment. My relative risk is minimal.

    If a poor person needs that $10 to buy food or pay rent, and instead risks it with the lottery, that person's relative risk is enormous, even though our absolute risk is the same -- $10.

    And as I said, whether you're spending pocket change or rent money doesn't affect the workings of the system. So it makes no sense to blame the lottery for somebody taking a huge relative risk with their money.

    I reject the notion that a person who chose to spend $10 on lottery tickets instead of rent has been "victimized" by the lottery. They have made a bad choice with their money. Just as if they had spent that $10 on the music CD (though I think the CD is an even worse choice if only marginally so).

    You complained that the music CD was an irrelevant comparison because music CDs aren't marketed as a ticket to the high life. But music CDs are marketed as a way to make life better through entertainment. And the lottery is not marketed as a ticket out of poverty either -- they are very careful to use the disclaimer that the games are based on chance and should be used for entertainment purposes only, not for investment. Oh, people ignore that disclaimer to be sure. Just as people ignore the disclaimer that cigarettes are bad for your health, for example, yet continue to buy smokes. But very few advertisements for any product urge consumers to buy what they're selling instead of paying the rent that month. Some people, though, make bad choices and do just that.

    As for the idea that a cheating man is the "victim" of the "other woman", you're right, I don't like the "both" answer. Oh, they're both responsible for the affair all right. But the man is responsible for any adverse effect on his marriage. The man is the one who had an obligation to be faithful to his wife, the "other woman" had absolutely no obligation to the wife.

    Translated to the lottery argument, the poor person who spends his last $10 on the lottery, and the state who provided a lottery for him to spend his last $10 on, are both responsible for him losing his $10. But the poor person is the one with the obligation to pay his rent for the month, not the state. The poor person is the one responsible for the adverse effects on his own life of losing $10, not the state.

    Now, I'm not saying that poverty is a great thing, or that we shouldn't be working to provide people with genuine opportunities to rise out of poverty.

    But I am saying that the state is not obliged to force citizens to make the "right" or "smart" choice with their money. I am saying that risk of failure is a good thing on balance, because it tends to self-regulate bad decisions. If we never have to pay a price for bad decisions, what's the incentive for making good decisions? And if we never have an opportunity to make bad decisions, do we really have free choice at all or does the state direct our lives?

    Anyhow, back down to Earth and the question of government policy regarding the lottery -- it sounds like you oppose gambling on principle for those who can't really afford to take the risk. And I would suggest that, if that's your position, you should be opposed to gambling, period. Which it sounds like you are, based on your comments about how you'd rather not have casinos at all, etc. It sounds like a lot of the people here take that position. And that's a perfectly legitimate position to take.

    But it's pretty seriously anti-free-choice. And hence, runs counter to some of the fundamental ideals of "liberalism", thus the very real conundrum posed by the original article that started this thread...

  • tunesmith (unverified)
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    David, you seemed fairly willing to consider other points of view for a few volleys there, but you shut yourself down in the last reply. Your final interpretation of my views are pretty far off from what I've already communicated. I'd rather casinos not exist, but that's my personal preference. The beef I'm focusing on is the state marketing gambling like the lottery. You seem to believe that wanting the state to stop advertising the lottery is akin to wanting the state to babysit someone's financial choices. If you really can't unlace those two things in your mind, then there isn't much point trying to re-explain myself.

  • David Wright (unverified)
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    Sorry, Tunesmith, we have covered quite a bit of ground here. I didn't mean to drop the ball, but apparently I've missed something somewhere along the line.

    So, you think that advertising of the lottery should be stopped, but the lottery can continue? I'm just not sure what that would accomplish is all. Heck, I don't really have a problem with not letting the state advertise the lottery, but that certainly won't stop desperate people from playing, which I thought was your main objection to the lottery in the first place. The state doesn't need to advertise the lottery, because people will play the lottery anyhow if it's available.

    But an awful lot of what you wrote before revolved around the harm done by the lottery to poor people. You claimed they were victims of the lottery (or, perhaps I misunderstood and they were really just victims of lottery advertising but not the lottery itself?)

    At any rate, you did claim that people were victimized in some way by the lottery system. And based on your other comments about temptation, willpower, your personal views on gambling in general, etc., it really doesn't seem like much of a stretch to summarize your views (and the logical conclusions to draw from your views) as I did.

    But if I'm way off I would certainly appreciate an explanation of how I have misinterpreted your writings, if for no other reason than I could learn from the experience.

    Thanks...

  • tunesmith (unverified)
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    I think the problem here is that you keep on trying to isolate my arguments. It's a good way to solve problems, but when my arguments depend on multiple things, that when you isolate them to only one facet, your comparisons are pretty irrelevant.

    Anyway, the state is advertising a regressive tax. I believe that the more they advertise, the more regressive it becomes. I want the system to be improved. There's a lot of ways to do it. Make it less regressive through education. Or stop advertising. Or end the system. Heck, I even play the lottery very occasionally, but I wouldn't miss it if it were gone. I'd vote it gone, too.

    Anyway, I honestly don't know what I think about private casinos, because that's where the tension is between my liberal tendencies and my belief that they have a net negative effect on society by their very presence. So that's why I haven't been arguing extreme things in that direction. But I think I come down on the end of wanting them not to be there, because I believe they have more negative than positive effect on society.

    But that's really beside my point: arguing for the state to get out of the lottery business is not anti-liberal. To say it is is to argue that the lottery is an entitlement.

    I'm curious, if you were a single guy and you met an attractive woman that you knew was married, and you saw the opening to make a pass at her, would you? If she were open to sleeping with you, would you sleep with her? You know, because her marriage is her business?

    Or would you feel like that you would be a presence, a force that through your actions is undermining a system that is designed to exclude the activity you're taking part in? And would you feel a moral responsibility to exclude yourself from the opportunity, to respect that?

    Do you see the difference between that and trying to solve her problems?

    Do you see your refusal to sleep with her as limiting her free choice?

  • Sally (unverified)
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    What a provocative (excuse the pun) analogy, tunesmith. Interesting discussion here. I haven't commented because, although it's a pet topic, you all have said almost everything so extremely well.

    When it comes to time to vote, I vote for the state entirely out of the lottery business, and for regulation/taxation of legalized gambling.

  • David Wright (unverified)
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    Tunesmith -- the lottery is a regressive tax? I understand the reasoning there, it's a pretty common and well-worn argument. Hell, a lot of the people here think everything is regressive because poor people can't afford squat.

    But I think it again completely ignores the question of whether lottery spending is purely optional on the part of the consumer.

    Of course, it is purely optional because as you said the more the state advertises, the more "regressive" the "tax". By which I can only assume you mean, more advertising = more lottery purchases by the poor (setting aside that more advertising would presumably also result in more lottery purchases by the rich, which may or may not affect the relative regressivity anyhow).

    If lottery purchases were not optional, how could advertising affect consumption?

    Anyhow, I'm not arguing that the lottery is an entitlement. The lottery, from the point of view of the state, is a revenue stream. From the point of view of the player, it's a product. It's not exactly a service or benefit. It's an opt-in revenue stream for the state. It's voluntary (hence not really a tax to begin with) and the purchaser directly gets something of value in exchange for his money.

    Now, arguing for or against state involvement in an activity because of the nature of that activity (i.e., your argument about the regressive nature of the lottery), it seems to me, is by extension arguing for or against the activity itself. If the activity itself is OK, why shouldn't the state be involved if there is an opportunity to derive revenue? If the activity is not OK, then why should the state tolerate it at all?

    So really I guess what it all boils down to is my statements of the implications of what you've said. If you feel the lottery is bad enough for poor people that the state shouldn't derive revenue from it (which you've said), the logical conclusion to draw is that gambling in general is bad enough that the state shouldn't derive revenue from it (which you've suggested but not actually committed to). And since the state derives revenue from business profits via income taxes (even absent a separate gaming tax), presumably this means that all gambling should be banned so as not to provide any income to the state based on gambling. Or, alternatively, businesses based on gambling should be excluded from all state taxes.

    But since your original objection to the lottery is that it preys on poor people, anything short of banning gambling entirely would continue to provide opportunities for preying on poor people in that way. And if the point is not to protect poor people, then there's no reason to object to the lottery in the first place.

    And, fundamentally, the urge to protect citizens may be liberal, but banning an optional entertainment choice for all citizens does seem pretty anti-liberal.

    I think these are the natural conclusions to draw from what you've said. You may not be comfortable with the "extreme" nature of them, but if you don't like any of these conclusions, then I'd suggest you should reconsider the premises upon which they were based. The argument works backwards and forwards after all. Hence, by taking the natural extension (ban all gambling, anti-liberal) of your starting point (get the state out of the lottery revenue business, not anti-liberal) and unraveling the argument, I think one needs to question whether the anti-liberal end result invalidates the (possibly) liberal starting point.

    And by the way, if that end result is desirable, then go ahead and argue for it, liberal or not. I'd disagree with the position, but I'd respect it as logically consistent.

    By the way, I'm with Sally. I'd certainly vote to eliminate the Oregon Lottery if it was replaced by a regulated and taxed private gaming environment (similar to Nevada, Mississippi, New Jersey, etc.) Of course, that's not going to help the poor people. Well, except for the poor people who would have new job opportunities with the new casinos. But either way I'm fine with that, obviously.

    As to the side issue regarding responsibility, etc. I am a single man, and I do not personally make it a habit to make passes at married women, no. But that's not due to any moral responsibility on my part to protect the institution of marriage. It's primarily due to the practical idea that I don't need that kind of complication in my life. Now, if a married woman made a pass at me, and I was otherwise interested... well, that would honestly be a tough call. It could go either way depending on a number of factors.

    But in either case, I wouldn't see it as my moral obligation to honor her marriage contract/covenant/vows. That's her obligation. Even assuming that I was the one to initiate the activity -- if she was a willing participant, then the resultant effect to her marriage would be entirely on her, not on me. As I said before, we'd be equal participants in the activity, but would not equally share in the responsibility for the outcome of that activity.

    Not quite the answer you were expecting, apparently? So the additional questions are irrelevant...

  • Sally (unverified)
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    "By the way, I'm with Sally. I'd certainly vote to eliminate the Oregon Lottery if it was replaced by a regulated and taxed private gaming environment (similar to Nevada, Mississippi, New Jersey, etc.) Of course, that's not going to help the poor people. Well, except for the poor people who would have new job opportunities with the new casinos. But either way I'm fine with that, obviously."

    You might be half with me, David, though if you're all the way with me, that's great, too. I don't think it's the state's business to outlaw gambling any more than it is the state's business to use it primarily for tax revenue. I think it should be regulated and taxed in accordance with other businesses and industries.

    And I think the citizens of a state should mutually (more or less) agree to pay proportionally for the services they want out of its government. State lotteries are one of those "behind the tree" tax targeting operations. I think that's just a bad way to distance the body politic from its political administration.

    Actually, I think it's worse than bad; I think it's lousy and outright dangerous. You want it? Own it. Pay for it.

  • tunesmith (unverified)
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    The question of whether lottery purchases are optional is irrelevant. What matters is the result on the system. You get hung up on this over and over again. The presence of the lottery does not require a poor person to buy a lottery ticket. It does not take choice away from them. But the presence of the lottery does result in a disproportionate negative effect on the poor than it would if it did not exist. Those statements are not contradictory. It might make your brain smoke, but I can't help that!

    David, arguments by extension are stupid because they ignore the parameters of the original statement. You don't see the difference between arguing against advertising the lottery, and arguing against the lottery itself. You don't see the difference between arguing against the lottery and arguing against gambling. It's like you're saying that if I'm against advertising the lottery, then I'm in favor of outlawing all gambling everywhere forever. I mean, this is silly because you're ruling out any advocacy of an incremental approach. Government is about holding balance points. It's not about taking extreme, absolutist positions and damning all the consequences.

    But since your original objection to the lottery is that it preys on poor people, anything short of banning gambling entirely would continue to provide opportunities for preying on poor people in that way.

    This is a classic logic flaw. So therefore, I should have no objection to the lottery? Please. Convince me you're not playing stupid here. I've said over and over again that it's not just that it preys on the poor, but that it's a government system, AND that the government advertises it. A perfect example of how you isolate only one part of what I'm saying and in turn make your point irrelevant.

    And, fundamentally, the urge to protect citizens may be liberal, but banning an optional entertainment choice for all citizens does seem pretty anti-liberal.

    Another blanket statement you're making there. I'm sure if you put your mind to it, you could come up with all sorts of activities that have the same rules for everyone, but different outcomes in different scenarios, that are advantageous for some, are illegal, and are not anti-liberal. What about speeding? Anyone with a car can do it. It gets you where you want to go faster. It's entertaining. If you're good at it, then it's pretty safe. But it has a systemic result - higher risk of traffic fatalities. You could say that it's up to the choice of the driver. If they get hurt, or hurt someone else, then they're to blame. They should take responsibility for their choices, right?

    But... it's illegal all the time, not just when you screw up and hit someone. Why the hell is that? Is that the government butting in and babying us? That damned government, restricting our free choice? Are traffic flow laws anti-liberal? Or are you going to argue that the only reason speeding laws exist are because of the people that don't speed?

    You are really pounding home this "natural conclusions" bit, aren't you. Are you just trying to waste my time or do you actually believe that arguments-of-extreme are proof that people's philosophies are invalid? Use your head here, can you not identify one philosophy you have, that if taken to its "natural extreme" wouldn't sound so good anymore?

    When I asked the marriage question, I wasn't trying to manipulate you a particular answer. I just felt like I've gotten to know you a bit through this exchange, and that's the answer I was expecting. It's not a surprise to me that you would not respect the institution of marriage if it were someone else's marriage. I would never sleep with a married woman, because it degrades the institution of marriage as a whole. I would guess that doesn't compute for you.

    So if you end up married, does that mean you wouldn't find it inappropriate for someone to make a pass at your wife if they knew she was married? It wouldn't tick you off?

    Are you an Ayn Rand type? Seems like it. Everyone to his self-interest, etc.

  • David Wright (unverified)
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    Well... this is clearly no longer productive.

    The question of whether lottery purchases are optional is irrelevant. What matters is the result on the system.
    I'm sorry. The question of whether lottery purchases are optional is entirely relevant. It is essentially the entire basis for both of our arguments, I think. You don't see the relevance to your own argument, though, and if we can't even agree on what we're arguing about, I guess we can't really argue, can we?   ;-)

    It's too bad. These are interesting questions, I think...

    Just a few more comments, though.

    With the "classic logic flaw" you cited, I was not saying that it necessarily followed that you had to approve of the lottery. I was saying that to be logically consistent either you had to approve of the lottery if you don't want to ban all gaming, or you had to approve of a comprehensive ban on gaming if you want to disapprove of the lottery. Of course, that's all based on your premise that the outcome of the system is important (the lottery is simply a specialized form of gambling, all of which can have a disproportionately negative effect on the poor); and the premise that the individual has free choice to participate in gambling or not in the first place. You agreed that the individual does have the choice, but you disagree that this has any bearing on the argument. So, there's little point in pursuing the discussion I guess. Oh, to be fair it's also based on the premise that you'd want to be logically consistent, so if that's not true then anything goes.

    Did you catch the recent thread here about higher speeding rates in Oregon a few days back? Interestingly enough, it may be that we've encountered a higher incidence of speeding (certainly a higher incidence of 90+ mph speeding tickets) while we've certainly seen a DECREASE in traffic fatalities in Oregon. So in your example, the higher speeding may not have a systemic result of higher risk for fatalities. That's the "conventional wisdom" of course, it just may not be true. And if it's not true, then the basis for speed limits could reasonably be questioned.

    And as for the hypothetical about someone making a pass at my future wife -- would it bother me? Depending on the circumstances. If the guy (or heck, let's be enlightened here, possibly the gal) was rude or obnoxious, to the point where it was borderline assault, yes I'd be bothered. If it was simple flirtation with intent to take it further than that, beyond any petty jealousy I'd probably feel a bit honored to have such a desirable wife.

    But if my wife was receptive to the pass, then of course I'd have an issue -- with her. The act of betrayal, of degradation to the marriage, would be my wife's and not the 3rd party's.

    On the other hand, if my wife rejected the pass, wouldn't it therefore follow that she had strengthened the marriage by demonstrating her committment? In such a case, by your reckoning I'd have to thank the guy (or gal) who made the pass for causing that strengthening of the marital bonds, right?   ;-)

    OK, yeah, I'm just tweakin' you a little bit there.

    Ah well...

  • David Wright (unverified)
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    Sally, I'm not sure I understand what you meant here:

    And I think the citizens of a state should mutually (more or less) agree to pay proportionally for the services they want out of its government. State lotteries are one of those "behind the tree" tax targeting operations. I think that's just a bad way to distance the body politic from its political administration.

    Actually, I think it's worse than bad; I think it's lousy and outright dangerous. You want it? Own it. Pay for it.

    Specifically as it applies to the lottery, what does this mean?

    Pay proportionally for government services? Proportionally to what? Are the citizens agreeing proportionally? Or are they paying proportionally?

    What is a "behind the tree" tax targeting operation? (Leaving aside for just a moment the question of whether the lottery is a "tax" per se)

    In what way does the lottery distance the body politic from its political administration? And, how is this different from any other revenue source the state has?

    Thanks...

  • tunesmith (unverified)
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    David, you're getting ridiculous. The reason the lottery being "optional" is irrelevant is because I've never argued that it isn't. Reread my response.

    You've ignored this statement:

    The presence of the lottery does not require a poor person to buy a lottery ticket. It does not take choice away from them. But the presence of the lottery does result in a disproportionate negative effect on the poor than it would if it did not exist. Those statements are not contradictory.

    You've also ignored this statement:

    I've said over and over again that it's not just that it preys on the poor, but that it's a government system, AND that the government advertises it.

    Speeding tickets: other phenomena could be making traffic safer faster than more 90+ speeding tickets make it worse.

    Overall, this discussion has been fun because I've gotten you to admit you see nothing wrong with cheating on someone else's marriage, that you don't necessarily believe that driving faster puts people at a higher risk of traffic accidents, and that you don't mind if someone wants to make a pass at your girlfriend/wife. You might be a fun guy to party with, but I'm not sure you're a good example to anyone. :-)

    Just tweakin' yeh.

  • David Wright (unverified)
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    You might be a fun guy to party with, but I'm not sure you're a good example to anyone.

    Heh... truer words...   ;-)

  • Sally (unverified)
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    Sally, I'm not sure I understand what you meant here: <delete> Thanks..."

    Sorry to be overly cryptic, David. It is a regular failing. What I mean to say, in regards to the lottery and state revenues, is that the lottery is a lousy way to raise revenue. It raises it disproportionately from the lowest economic strata. (So do cigarette taxes.)

    The tree reference was to the old (Huey Long, I believe) saw: "Don't tax me; don't tax thee; tax the feller behind the tree." Rather than the citizens of Oregon determining what governmental services they want to provide, and sharing in some (more customary) proportion the paying of those, they design a revenue-raising measure that "voluntarily" obtains money from those who smoke (e.g.) or buy lottery tickets.

    I think it is dishonest when "we" decide to tax (or "raise revenue," if you prefer) from "them" for services and government that ostensibly we all want. The danger is the danger in getting anything for free. Surely your libertarian spirit appreciates that?! What entitlement program is that?!

    (The arguments about how to apportion taxes, whether graduated, progressive, flat or whatnot can await another day and discussion.)

  • David Wright (unverified)
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    Thanks for the clarification, Sally. That makes sense. Huey Long was an interesting character all right...

    Well, heck, I guess if we can't talk about apportionment of taxes in this discussion, there's not much I can say about how "we" regularly tax "them" (just because "they" have the money) when "we" want government to provide something...   ;-)

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