Lottery Lechery

While I was visiting family back home in Northeast Tennessee this weekend, I was surprised to learn that the new Tennessee Lottery has made some rather dubious inroads. Even though I was pre-warned of the fact, I was still shocked to see a large Tennessee Lottery sign hanging on the side of the Goodwill Industries thrift store. That’s right, in addition to old clothes and furniture, the Goodwill now sells lottery tickets. From the Jan. 20 Kingsport Times-News [registration req.]:

One key to increasing Tennessee Lottery sales is attracting non-traditional retailers – like Kingsport-based Goodwill Industries, a nonprofit organization that helps disabled and disadvantaged people.

About 97 percent of Goodwill’s revenue comes from its retail outlets, said President and CEO Douglas Kirkland, who addressed ongoing criticism about the organization’s decision to sell lottery tickets.

“The reason we’re selling lottery tickets is twofold: One, we think this lottery, to some degree, fits our mission because it’s going to provide scholarship funding for about 65,000 Tennessee students,” Kirkland said. “Secondly, we hope it will improve our business. Twenty percent of what we sell is gift and home decorative items. We’re hoping someone who comes in and buys a lottery ticket will look around and say “Wow, I didn’t know you had this stuff too.’ Any revenue we get from this will go to a very worthwhile cause. … I’m aware of the negative comments, and frankly I disagree with some of those. I think a lot of it is coming from people who haven’t gotten over the fact that the lottery won and it’s here.”

Kirkland promised Goodwill employees will use their heads when they see someone needlessly throwing their money away on lottery tickets.

“They know poverty, and if they see someone abusing the system I’ll guarantee they will tell them,” Kirkland said. “It’ll be like the friendly neighborhood bartender who tells his neighbor’s son, “You’ve had too much,’ but we won’t refuse to sell to anyone.”

First question: why is a non-profit organization helping to increase for-profit lottery ticket sales? Why does Goodwill need to increase its business so much? Aren’t all the clothing and furniture they sell donated?

The soundest biblical argument against lotteries is one of stewardship (see Matthew 25:14-30, for example). Playing the lottery is a losing game. I’m not sure about the statistics, but I’d wager (hee hee) that the chances of winning the big prize are lower than getting struck by lightning. Bottom line: it’s a stupid investment. Positioning a lottery at Goodwill is like holding a giant barbeque at a homeless shelter and not letting them eat.

Goodwill CEO Douglas Kirkland’s comment about watching out for abuse by the poor is rhetoric akin to breaking wind. He even says that they won’t do anything if they see someone abusing the system.

I’m not sure if any other states than Tennessee are doing this. Anyone know of any others? The Goodwill in Louisville doesn’t sell lottery tickets, but regardless, I’m taking my next bag of clothes to the Salvation Army.

One reply on “Lottery Lechery”

  1. The lottery system is not only unwise and foolish from a personal finance perspective, but on a macroeconomic level it is despicable – a tax on the poor. It rakes in huge amounts of revenue for states, all on the backs of those who can’t afford it. I don’t see how a Christian could play the lottery in good conscience, knowing that they are participating in something that preys upon the poor.

    It is carried out under the guise of “noble programs” (education in TN or seniors in PA), but it really serves to fill the state coffers with the money of the poor.

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