In Oregon, we can't raise taxes so we raise gamblers....with help from the new Joe Camel

Chuck Sheketoff


Years ago, facing legal and political pressure for marketing cancer sticks to youth, R.J. Reynolds put out to pasture its infamous Joe Camel mascot. Today’s “Scratch-it for Schools” campaign by the Oregon State Lottery may not sport a character with a hump, but its cynicism brings back memories of old Joe.

Last November, the Oregon Lottery, with help from the Oregon Department of Education, invited K-12 public schools to gamble on Scratch-it for Schools. This month, the Lottery picked 75 applicants to play the game. [The list of 2008 Participating Schools is here (PDF).]

Come April, teams of eight adults, four from each school and four from TV or radio stations, will have five minutes to scratch as many Oregon Lottery Scratch-it tickets as they can. The schools will keep the cash prizes uncovered by their teams.

If a lottery is a bad tax on people’s poor understanding of statistics, Scratch-it for Schools is nothing but a public relations scam peddling the lie that lottery games can be a panacea for schools’ funding shortages, all the while validating gambling in the eyes of our kids.

The cynical nature of the campaign comes across loud and clear in the invitation to schools to register online. The Oregon Lottery encouraged school officials to fill out the registration on their home computers, because some school computers ban access to the Lottery’s website. Many school computers apparently put lotteries in the same category as pornography when it comes to online access.


What do the school computers know that the principals and school district administrators fail to grasp?

The computers apparently know that Oregon public health officials are concerned about problem gambling in general and youth gambling in particular. At least some public schools profess similar concerns, though that didn’t stop them from entering and winning slots in the Lottery’s Scratch-it for Schools promotion. Both Portland Public Schools and the Silver Falls School District, for example, have policies prohibiting student gambling — playing games of chance for the purpose of exchanging money or anything of value.

And perhaps the school computers also understand the deceptive math behind the Scratch-it for Schools marketing scheme. The Oregon Lottery boasts that last year it raised about $86,000 through the school-based gambling event. [The list of 2007 "winners" and amounts they earned is here (PDF).] To some, especially kids, that may sound like a lot of money. Yet, considering that the state school budget is $6,245,000,000, the $86,000 is peanuts. Actually, it’s just a few grains of salt on the peanuts. It’s just fourteen one-millionths — 0.0014 percent — of an increase in funding for schools.

Put another way, the Oregon Lottery’s Scratch-it for Schools event provides enough funding to add a little less than half a minute to the school year of Oregon’s schoolchildren. Schools would be better off spending their time giving their students a math lesson and teaching them that the Oregon Lottery accounts for less than 3 percent of the cost of state government.

But Scratch-it for Schools is really not primarily about helping schools. The Oregon Lottery calls the scheme a “promotional program” and is using shills from the media to maximize its slick PR campaign.

Unfortunately, like RJR’s Joe Camel, the campaign is aimed at vulnerable youth. After all, how can a marketing campaign targeting schools not implicate their students?

State human services officials are rightly concerned that although students won’t be allowed to scratch the tickets, they are likely to get caught up in the excitement and frenzy as their teachers, administrators and parents — presumably role models — frantically scratch tickets for a little money.

Instead of helping promote the fantasy that playing the lottery will solve life’s challenges, schools should teach kids the facts of life: taxes, not gambling revenues, are responsible for 90 percent of school funding. If schools want more digital cameras, books, assembly programs, playground equipment, computer hardware and software and field trips — allegedly what past Scratch-it for Schools winners bought with their money — they’d be better off working to strengthen our tax system’s funding for our public structures.

Just as the tobacco industry invented Joe Camel to hook children on a dangerous product, the Oregon Lottery has come up with its own marketing ploy to ready its future prey. Let’s hope a public outcry similarly banishes Scratch-it for Schools to the PR pasture for misguided publicity schemes.




Ocpp_final_1 Chuck Sheketoff is the executive director of the Oregon Center for Public Policy and he thanks OCPP founder John Mullin for the title of this post.   You can sign up to receive email notification of OCPP materials at www.ocpp.org

Comments

  • (Show?)

    Why do I have this image of a group of parents from a struggling school--maybe most of the parents are unemployed timber workers, or Latinos, or African Americans--desperately doing scratch its, just to raise five or ten grand so they can repair a few leaky windows, or resurface part of their eroding playground, or maybe buy some books published in the last decade.

    Oregon Lottery and Oregon Schools: Proud Partners for Mediocrity.

  • BCM (unverified)
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    I have to contest this post out of hand.

    Your use of scare tactics as a backwards way of calling for higher taxes is shameful. 'The children are going to get excited and become rabid gamblers.' That's unbelievably faulty reasoning as it is only valid if you assume Oregon's schoolchildren are drones.

    Let's have a run-down of your trigger phrases: +"the Oregon State Lottery may not sport a character with a hump, but its cynicism brings back memories of old Joe."

    +"Scratch-it for Schools is nothing but a public relations scam peddling the lie that lottery games can be a panacea for schools’ funding shortages, all the while validating gambling in the eyes of our kids."

    +"Unfortunately, like RJR’s Joe Camel, the campaign is aimed at vulnerable youth."

    +"...frantically scratch tickets for a little money."

    +"Instead of helping promote the fantasy that playing the lottery will solve life’s challenges"

    +"Just as the tobacco industry invented Joe Camel to hook children on a dangerous product, the Oregon Lottery has come up with its own marketing ploy to ready its future prey. Let’s hope a public outcry similarly banishes Scratch-it for Schools to the PR pasture for misguided publicity schemes."

    And here's the golden quote: +"they’d be better off working to strengthen our tax system’s funding for our public structures."

  • (Show?)

    Not wanting to undermine Paul G's appropriate sarcasm, note that I've posted the winnings from last year, and they were a far cry from $5,000 to $10,000!

    Remember, this event comes from the same folks who during holiday season took the position that it is far better to give a loved one a piece of paper that odds-are has no value (a Scratch-it ticket) than to give the loved one a gift of value that you received and didn't want ("Don't regift - give Scratch-its" was their holiday campaign).

  • (Show?)

    Chuck

    Wow. That's pretty embarrassing. Sadly, the list is populated as I'd predicted. Rich schools don't have to pimp their parents as free advertising for the Oregon Gambling Program, er, Lottery.

    Let's let the poor folks do that.

    I'm surprised Castillo hasn't squashed this cynical program.

  • 24c (unverified)
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    "What do the school computers know that the principals and school district administrators fail to grasp?"

    Here's a tech tip Chuck: You probably are referring to internet filters. They don't think on their own. They are programmed by...principals in administrators.

    BCM sniffed out your scare tactics correctly.

  • TempestTeapot (unverified)
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    In 1995, Oregonians voted to allow lottery profits to fund public education. Since then, over $2.1 billion in Oregon Lottery profits has gone to Oregon schools.

  • (Show?)

    TempestTeapot, whomever you are, is pulling the same trick the Oregon Lottery plays on people - sounds like a lot of money, but those funds over the last 13 years have amounted to about only 10% of funding for schools. And in the bigger picture of state government, the $2 billion is minute.

    Hey BO folks, why do people like TempestTeapot defend the Oregon Lottery's PR spin?

  • JTT (unverified)
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    Thanks Chuck. I've always scratched my head when I saw the local news stories about teachers and schools bringing their ice scrapers to do this "event"...I mean, could you imagine an Oregon where no one would want to come to this kind of event because it promotes an addictive/destructive behavior and because their school didn't need the money?! The lottery's ads about the good work they're doing remind me of the oil companys' ads on TV about all the alternative energy they're investing in...or maybe you could imagine an ad for all the good things that strip clubs bring to their communities (i.e. economic development, jobs, a community spirit, companionship...). I mean, anything can look good if you pay a PR-firm enough money to make it look good.

  • BCM (unverified)
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    "Hey BO folks, why do people like TempestTeapot defend the Oregon Lottery's PR spin?"

    Bait and switch, a classic step-up from scare tactics, Chuck. He produced a valid point which you seem incapable of countering effectively. Please don't try to deflect the onus off of you and back onto TempestTeapot.

    $2 billion dollars is $2 billion less dollars than we would have to suffer in statewide taxes on people and businesses. It's wildly irresponsible to throw that number around as if it can be easily replaced--it cannot.

    10% of school funding in the state of Oregon over the past 13 years is significant. Don't belittle it simply to make a point. After all, our schools have suffered from serious financial troubles in the past few years. Imagine those problems compounded by removing 10% of their funding.

  • rural resident (unverified)
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    Chuck, 10% of the current general fund appropriation for K-12 education would be approximately $300 million in each year of the current biennium. Based on the current SSF distribution formula, the Portland Metro/Salem schools get approximately $160 million of that. Since this is such a paltry amount, I'm sure the school superintendents and boards will be happy to forego that small amount so that rural schools can maintain teachers and programs. Yeah, right.

  • Tax Law (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Schools should make sure to teach kids the facts of life: taxes,legal formats. Instead of helping promote the fantasy that playing the lottery will solve life’s challenges, and encouraging them to rapid gambling.

  • (Show?)

    Thanks Chuck.

    Hmm, some principals and administrators set filters and they want to filter out gambling, wonder why?

    JTT, I think you're onto something -- how about we get the OLCC to sponsor school principal hard liquor chug contests?

    $2 billion 13 yrs avg a bit over $150 million/yr. How many taxpayers in Oregon? 1 million? = avg. $150/taxpayer/yr 1.5 million? = avg. $100/taxpayer/yr Yeah I know the avgs are a little funky given progressivity of tax system, but hey, if the president can do it to sell tax cuts, I can do it to push tax increases.

    But this is some serious nasty cheapskatery, to want to gouge the addicted and rip off the poor (dispropotionately) to save a couple hundred bucks a year.

    I can see an argument for having a lottery to limit illegal gambling. But if that's the reason, the lottery shouldn't be allowed to advertise. It should operate like the OLCC, with its conflict of interest tilted toward antagonism.

  • lin qiao (unverified)
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    In 1995, Oregonians voted to allow lottery profits to fund public education. Since then, over $2.1 billion in Oregon Lottery profits has gone to Oregon schools.

    BCM sez: "$2 billion dollars is $2 billion less dollars than we would have to suffer in statewide taxes on people and businesses. It's wildly irresponsible to throw that number around as if it can be easily replaced--it cannot.

    "10% of school funding in the state of Oregon over the past 13 years is significant. Don't belittle it simply to make a point. After all, our schools have suffered from serious financial troubles in the past few years. Imagine those problems compounded by removing 10% of their funding."

    I don't get it. BCM keeps saying that directing lottery moneys to schools is a great thing because otherwise the schools would be even more poorly funded. But the point of this entire discussion is that the lottery is a stealth tax. Sure, it's voluntary--nobody has to buy a lottery ticket--but if it's money going from taxpayers to the state and then being redistributed, in the end it is indistinguishable from a tax.

    I have no problem with people choosing to gamble, but gambling ought to be understood as nothing other than entertainment, something that one pays for. Casinos and lotteries are not charitable ventures.

    My sense has always been that states starting running lotteries as sleath-tax schemes abou the time that the GOP started promoting the idea that 'government is evil'. So rather than governors and legislators making a case to the public for taxes to pay for services, they copped out and started running lotteries.

  • rural resident (unverified)
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    lin qiao ... Lotteries are completely distinguishable for taxes. That little matter about one being voluntary and the other being compulsory makes more than a little difference. One can argue about the moral aspects or the social benefits/costs based on the demographics of lottery players, but one thing that is certain is that, unless we have the right to pay only as much as we want to the government in taxes, there IS a DIFFERENCE.

  • (Show?)

    Back in the early '90s, when I was working in the printing industry, one of the clients of the company I worked for was the Oregon Lottery. Right about the time of the height of popularity of "The Lion King", the Lottery ran scratch-it games with -- ta-daaah! -- cartoon African animals!

    I have to admit, I was so disgusted by it that I sent copies of the color proofs to a few news organizations. I wonder if I still have a copy...?

  • (Show?)

    BCM is ok with having the state suck on the gambling teat, encouraging self-destructive behavior rather than having citizens face the true and honest cost of their public services.

    Hell, let's start advertising liquor in the schools, too! It's OK as long as we dedicate a portion of the liquor tax to schools, right?

    Typical GOP anti-tax troll BS.

  • lin qiao (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Rural resident sez: "unless we have the right to pay only as much as we want to the government in taxes, there IS a DIFFERENCE."

    Um...and this right what exactly? Individual? Or some sort of "societal" right? If I don't want to pay the particular road tax that lets you drive to the big city, I don't have to? And likewise you get to opt out of the lanes that carry me out to your area? What about the taxes that go into the state general fund for schools? Screw it, I want to pay for only my own kids' schools, not yours.

    Do I have the "right" to withhold, say, the large fraction of my federal taxes that pay for the Iraq war?

    I'm sorry, but the libertarian argument always wind up sounding to me indistinguishable from something along the lines of "I've got mine, Jack, now you get lost."

  • David Wright (unverified)
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    Lin Qiao, I believe you've read that point incorrectly.

    Rural resident is pointing out that the difference between taxes and the lottery is that you DO have the right to not participate in the lottery. As opposed to taxes, which you are legally obligated to pay. Hence, a big difference between a tax and the lottery.

    Which is, I think, a fundamental point here. It may be true that the poor disproportionately engage in the lottery (while more affluent people disproportionately engage in casino gaming, BTW) but the government isn't making anybody buy a scratch-it ticket. It is purely, 100% voluntary.

    And, of course, there's an entirely reasonable argument to be made that a mix of 10% voluntary funding and 90% obligatory funding for schools is better than 100% obligatory funding. Which leaves many of us scratching our heads (if not our lottery tickets) wondering what all the fuss is about?

    The lottery is a game of chance, with poor but honest odds of winning. The state isn't cheating anybody, as far as we know, so what exactly is the problem here?

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