Originally created 08/29/00

Tale of two lotteries



Disagreements over lottery proposals usually center on the moral aspect.

One side, often supported by church groups, believes state-sponsored gambling is morally wrong, if not sinful, because it preys on the most financially vulnerable among us.

The other side, generally more pragmatic, argues that the vast majority lottery wagerers are not irresponsible - and those who do overdo it would likely find other ways to waste their money if there were no lottery. At least with the lottery, the proceeds go to a good cause - education.

These moral concerns also surround the lottery debate now raging in South Carolina.

Most lottery opponents are the same people who fought so hard to rid their state of video poker. They're now appalled at the notion of bringing a new gambling enterprise into the state.

There is also a heavy political component to the lottery fight, which will be decided in a statewide referendum in the fall elections. Democrats claim the GOP wants to shoot down Gov. Jim Hodges' education agenda. He was elected, in part, to bring a Georgia-style lottery to the Palmetto State.

Unfortunately for Hodges and other lottery proponents, what South Carolinians will be asked to approve in November is nothing like what Georgians OK'd in 1992.

Georgia spelled out the implementing legislation so voters knew exactly what to expect: How the lottery would be run, who would be responsible for it, where the money would go; there were also safeguards to ensure no crooked elements, or special interests, could gain control of the game or be unfairly favored by it.

In short, Georgians knew what their lottery vote was going for.

But South Carolinians don't have a clue. No implementing legislation has been passed; only vague "trust us" promises by the governor and other pro-lottery forces that education will benefit.

"South Carolina has dropped the ball," says state Rep. Roland Smith, R-Langley. Smith has sent Georgia's tightly defined lottery statute, which he describes as a model for the nation, to the legislative subcommittee handling the lottery implementation.

The problem is, it can't pass the General Assembly until next year - after voters have decided the referendum. As the Georgia experience shows, this work should be done before the referendum.

Lottery foes not only have the moral issue, now they can also make the practical case that voters are being asked to buy a pig in a poke.

What kind of assurances can pro-lottery advocates give that the General Assembly will OK, after-the-fact, implementing legislation like Georgia's?

None.