Would A Justice People Tolerate a Predatory Government Practice?
"The thought of increasing your jackpot potential, gets you pumped," slurs Ric Flair in a noisy TV commercial. "Woooo!"
"Woooo! That's what I'm talking about," bays Flair, who howls at the end of the 30-second ad, "No. Like this, Woooo!"
Never heard of Ric Flair, aka "The Nature Boy?"
Most EthicsDaily.com readers have probably never heard the name Ric Flair, the ring name for an aging pro-wrestler.
But Rebecca Hargrove has.
Flair's "a good representation of good people," said Hargrove, CEO of the Tennessee lottery. "Everything we do is geared to sell more tickets, and this ad has garnered a lot of attention."
She said of the Flair ad, "It's gotten the response we hoped."
Hargrove's TV ad is aimed at the good people of Tennessee who follow America's biggest carnival - pro-wrestling. It isn't aimed at college graduates with white-collar jobs, successful people of color, white suburban housewives, comfortably retired persons. It's aimed at the poorly educated, mostly white males with low-paying jobs. It's aimed at a specific demographic - those most likely to buy lottery tickets.
Who else watches TV wrestling or attends wrestling matches? Who else in Tennessee would know who Ric Flair, "The Nature Boy," is? Who would pay attention to loud, bulky men in a weight room howling "woooo?"
The Tennessee lottery ad is targeting a vulnerable group for exploitation.
According to a 1999 Duke University study, the "heaviest lottery players" - the top 20 percent of lottery ticket purchasers - are males (61.4 percent). Twenty percent are high school dropouts. Almost 10 percent have incomes less than $10,000.
Yep. We're good people in Tennessee.
We believe that it is morally acceptable for a governmental entity to have the mission of raising revenue for pre-kindergarten education programs and college scholarships through predatory marketing. We prey on those with the most to lose by playing the lottery, those who think they will win, those who don't understand that the lottery is rigged against their winning.
Not only do the good people of Tennessee prey on the poor by suckering them to spend their limited income on tickets, but we believe in transferring money from the low-income to better-off income classes. We see nothing wrong with conning the poor to pay for the college education of the better-off.
Forty-seven percent of the Tennessee lottery college-scholarship recipients in the fall of 2006 came from families with incomes of $72,001 and above. Only 24 percent came from families with incomes of less than $36,000.
In other words, the poor play the lottery to pay the way for the children of the better-off income classes to go to college.
Tennessee isn't the only state with predatory practices. Some 41 states have lotteries.
"When you create circumstances as a government, asking, insisting, seducing people into playing games that are already rigged for them to lose, that's predatory," said Philip Blackwell, senior pastor of First United Methodist Church in Chicago, in an interview for a forthcoming EthicsDaily.com documentary. "And all you have to do is follow where are the advertising dollars going to see that it's pitched to those who are most desperate."
With a noted record of opposition to the lottery and other forms of gambling, Blackwell makes a good point about how and where advertising dollars are spent.
One is hard pressed to find Tennessee lottery ads on billboards in affluent communities of Nashville, where the educated beneficiaries of a good and prosperous society live. One wonders why that is?
The simple answer is that they seldom play the lottery. Lottery billboards in my part of town would be a waste of money.
Such is not the case in low-income neighborhoods - neighborhoods littered with lottery billboards and payday lending vendors.
The Tennessee Education Lottery Commission and other state lottery commissions know their market and what motivates their customers. They are predatory and shameful.
The rest of us are complicit in our acceptance of a predatory tax on the poor for the sake mostly of middle and upper-income Americans, who don't want to pay their fair share in taxes for quality education and other public services.
"[J]ustice is far from us...[W]e grope like those who have no eyes" (Isaiah 59:9-10), said the prophet Isaiah about another people.
Could the same be said of this generation of Americans? Are we morally blind to our injustice?
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics.