A Washington, D.C.-based public policy group called The Tax Foundation issued warnings about a new lottery campaign aimed at Alabamians.
It's an advertising drive in east Alabama thanking residents for driving to Georgia to buy lottery tickets, said Bill Ahern, spokesman for the group, which recently studied state lotteries and their impact.
The campaign will feature a clerk in a Georgia store who points out that Alabama money has helped fund his children's college education.
"It's all going to be part of campaign to put the lottery in Alabama, which would be a big mistake," Ahern told The Anniston Star for a story Sunday.
The Tax Foundation, a non-partisan, non-profit policy watchdog group, decided to study lotteries after noting so many states appeared to increase reliance on lottery revenue. What the study found, Ahern said, amazed its sponsors.
The average American spent more on lottery tickets in 2002 than on reading materials or movies. During fiscal 2003, Americans spent roughly $45 billion - or $155 per person - to play lotteries nationwide. That's compared to the $32.08 each Americans spent in theater admissions and $140 on reading materials.
Not everyone agrees with the Tax Foundation's position that a lottery is another type of tax, one paid and played mostly by lower-income people. The foundation says that if a state decides something is important enough to fund with a lottery, it should be important enough to fund through property, income or sales taxes that are more transparent and equitable.
Rep. John Rogers, D-Birmingham, who has introduced a lottery bill in the Legislature for years, said he doesn't see how people can say a lottery wouldn't help. He disputes the argument that the lottery is a tax on low-income residents or that people rather would pay more taxes than have a lottery.
As for transparency, he said people understand that if they buy a ticket, they take a risk and that if they lose, their money goes to education or the winner's payout.
"How can it be good for Alabamians to be driving to Georgia to help pay for scholarships for children in another state?" he asked. "If you are raising millions of dollars a year through a lottery, there has got to be some rich people playing too.
"And a lottery is a dream. It is the only hope that poor people have that someday they will be rich."
That dream costs large numbers of Americans quite a bit, according to the study.
In Georgia, where most northeast Alabamians head when the jackpot gets large enough, lottery sales in fiscal 2003 were $2.6 billion, the sixth highest in the nation. Put another way, roughly $302 was spent per capita on the lottery, the seventh highest in the country, according to the study.
Georgia's coffers saw about $751.5 million of that to fund things such as the state's college tuition scholarship. That's about 28 percent of the total spent on lotteries in Georgia, the study says.
The odds of a lottery coming to Alabama, however, remain unknown. The Tax Foundation warns Alabamians in its report that as lottery proponents make more money with games in more states, they will fight harder to bring a lottery to Alabama.
State Finance Director Jim Main said a lottery has no chance of passing this year, and other legislators agree that as long as the state retains its strong conservative, religious opposition to lottery, nothing will change.