« Previous  
 Next »

Revising the Lottery

03/18/08 7:55AM By Timothy McQuiston
 MP3   Download MP3 

(HOST) While national economists whisper recession for the national economy, those who suggest privatizing Vermont's state lottery just might find new allies in alleviating state budget problems. Commentator Tim McQuiston, Editor of Vermont Business Magazine, asks, why stop there?

(MCQUISTON) If you think that the issue of leasing the lottery has come up snake eyes for Governor Douglas, just take a look at the latest state unemployment rate. The 4.2 percent rate is the highest in four years and only a half-point lower than the national rate. Job growth is stagnant.

Vermont's diversified economy tends to lag behind the feast and famine swings of the national economy. But national problems eventually filter up to the Green Mountains - the latest are already here.

Though Vermont is becoming a more attractive destination for foreign tourists, especially from Quebec, it's hard to balance that against the sluggishness of the national economy. Housing and credit problems, and gas and oil prices, will be with us for awhile. Wall Street is in the dumpster, and the Federal Reserve Bank reminds me of a chicken running around with its head cut off.

So if the state is looking for a quick fix for a short-term budget problem, and investment houses are looking for a unique new product, then leasing the lottery might remain in play - if not this year, then maybe next.

If so, Vermont could become the first to privatize a state lottery - though other states, including Texas and California, are also thinking about it, with some interesting goals in mind.

First, it would guarantee the state at least what we're bringing in now, which is about 23 million a year in profits. Second, it would probably bring in more money than that - perhaps a lot more -- because the state would get a piece of the action. Third, the state could wash its hands, at least to some extent, of being in the business of gambling.

It's fair to guess the "new" lottery would be marketed more aggressively. One could imagine that the "Please play responsibly" tag would be replaced by something more tempting, as in "You can't become a millionaire unless you take a chance." And the marketing would probably enter grayer areas of responsibility: the Internet, direct solicitation, and who knows what.

The initial state payout for leasing it would be a windfall estimated at 50 million dollars, on top of the 23 million. That's a pretty good number, even in a billion dollar budget.

But if the state really wants to make big money off gambling, why stop there? Vermont has a lot more cache than Atlantic City or Connecticut. Maybe Vermont could become the winter Monte Carlo. How much would Aspen and Vail hate that, if Stowe and Killington had five-star casinos?

Now, maybe it's a terrible idea. And while I'm not promoting it, I'm not morally opposed to it either. Others are, and I'm OK with that, too. But we've had dog racing and horse racing and the state lottery in Vermont going back a long way. Let's just not be hypocrites.
comments powered by Disqus
Supported By
Become an Underwriter | Find an Underwiter