What's the Kansas Lottery for, anyway?
It's a good question.
The Kansas Lottery raises a lot of money. For fiscal year 2018, it brought in some $74.7 million for state coffers. Much of that money goes to economic development, with a smaller but still substantial share deposited in the state general fund. Smaller amounts still go to juvenile detention facilities and the problem gambling grand fund.
The question touches on an understanding shared by many Kansans — that our state's lottery was meant to primarily support education. Apparently that was never the case, although general fund revenue does go to schools.
More broadly, however, it might behoove us as a state to consider why we have a lottery and what such a program is really for. Sales have exploded — from $65.8 million net in 1987, when the program began, to $269 million in 2018.
People want to win big. But should the state encourage them by offering games of chance?
Don't misunderstand us: We're not saying that strict religious or morality codes should dictate state policy. We'll leave that advocacy for some members of the Legislature. No, we're just wondering about the overall wisdom of depending on gambling money for such a big share of state revenue.
The lottery program doesn't prosper because of the big jackpots that make the news a time or two a year. No, it persists because a dedicated group of people spend money, each and every day, on lottery tickets. And they spend the money often because they're dreaming of a better life.
Do lottery tickets really provide that?
If you were cynical, you might call the lottery a tax placed on the heads of the poor and desperate in our state, those seeking for some way — if only for a moment — to escape their current, pressing troubles. What if we had spent the past 31 years, rather than selling lottery tickets, investing a similar amount of money in the neediest Kansans? What if we had taken those same resources and improved education, workforce training and strengthened the safety net? What if we used that time and energy to make our state better?
If we had, Kansas might be a stronger state overall today. Yes, we might not have colorful tickets and grand jackpots. But we might have stronger citizens and families and communities.