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Are States Gambling on Education?


Lost in the Super Tuesday hoopla was the fact that California voters agreed to expand tribal gambling in their state by adding 17,000 slot machines to further tempt people. The proceeds will go to help prop up the state budget. Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who supported and helped broker the gambling deal with the legislature last year, even appeared in television ads (included below) with state superintendent of public instruction Jack O'Connell. (And those two don't always see eye to eye). The message? More slot machines=more money for schools.

This isn't just a California issue. In Illinois, the state is considering legalizing a land-based casino in Chicago and expanding its riverboat casinos to provide money for schools.

In Nevada, the state teachers' union is campaigning to put a question on the November ballot that would increase taxes on Las Vegas casinos to raise more money for teacher salaries schools.

Maryland is considering legalizing slot machines in racetracks to help shore up its budget (which includes K-12 education).

What's more, states and politicians such as those in California are using schools to sell the notion of gambling. Some states, such as North and South Carolina, call their lotteries the "Education Lottery." In fact, The North Carolina Education Lottery is catching heat this month for filming an ad featuring 15 children, who are black and white, in a prekindergarten program. One legislator is accusing the lottery of exploiting black children to sell more lottery tickets. You can read more about this here.

Lotteries, slot machines, and casinos are seen as easy ways for states to make some extra money—considerably easier than raising taxes. Gambling revenue is more volatile than say, a property tax—often ebbing and flowing with the peaks and valleys of the economy. Lotteries are particularly expensive to run. So states may tread into a danger zone when they start relying on the unpredictable world of gambling to fulfill fundamental government responsibilities, like educating children.

Are states this desperate for cash?

Apparently, yes.

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