News outfit intent on slamming lotteries
CBS News, currently the lowest-rated broadcast network of the "big three", today ran its second story in the past month attempting to dig dirt on lotteries in America.
In its latest diatribe, CBS News alleges one of the oldest, most widely-spread lottery myths — that lotteries prey on the poor and destitute.
The problem is, the myth has been disproved time and again by long-term studies, using scientific means.
(See Study proves lottery not 'regressive tax' played mostly by poor, Lottery Post, June 14, 2006)
The CBS News story relies on interviews with a few people, and offers no data to back up its allegations.
In fact, CBS News seems to be making a living off of propagating myths about the lottery. Is it to exploit social divides in America, so they can resurrect abysmal ratings?
In addition to CBS's story in September about the lottery "short-changing schools" and accusing the state lotteries of "stunningly bad" contributions to education (see Is the lottery shortchanging schools?), their centerpiece news/entertainment show 60 Minutes also tried to slam the lottery in an Andy Rooney apoplectic rant (see Lotteries and lottery players are stupid).
Why is CBS News intent on spreading negative stories about the lottery?
As with most oddball tactics and stories produced by mainstream news outlets, their strange behavior can be linked directly to the size and direction of their ratings.
And with CBS News, things are not looking so rosy.
Katie Couric's evening news show has consistently been the lowest-rated on the main three, and viewership on the "CBS Evening News" has been in a downward spiral each week since her debut the day after Labor Day, 2006.
Last month, around the time when the first lottery hit piece was published, Couric's ratings were at their lowest point ever, despite the fact that it was her anniversary on the network, and she took a special trip to Iraq.
Ignoring the positive
The CBS News stories ignore any positive aspects to lotteries in their zeal to make them appear unsavory.
CBS News ignored that lotteries may improve the mental health of the elderly. (See Study: Gambling May Help Keep Older Folks Healthy.)
CBS News also ignored the tremendous number of poor Americans who receive money and programs directly from lottery revenues (see Lottery pays off for poor kids.)
And, they ignored studies like the one mentioned above showing that the link between social status and lottery playing is a myth.
Will CBS News continue publishing negative myths about the lottery? Will they continue stating opinions in their headlines, placing a question mark after the headline to make it appear legitimate?
If the CBS News ratings continue to plummet, the odds are good that we will see more of the same.
We now present the full text of the "news" story from CBS.
Lotteries: Preying On The Poor?
When we took a close look at state-run lotteries last month, we discovered that, when it comes to education funding, they are little more than a drop in the bucket and far from a bucketful.
We also learned that a disproportionate sum of the nation's $50+ billion in lottery comes from the pockets of the poor and minority groups. One place we saw this first hand was Texas, whose lottery rakes in $65 million every week.
Walk into any convenience store in Houston's lower-income 3rd Ward, and it's a good bet you'll see some of the Texas Lottery's best customers. Lottery sales in this legislative district top $50 million a year, the highest in the state, while the average family income is less than $15,000 a year, well below the poverty line. Folks here spend six times more of their income on the lottery than the wealthiest district.
"It's a shift of the cost of government onto people who can least afford it," says State Rep. Garnett Coleman, who has represented this neighborhood for 17 years. "Is a drug dealer responsible when they sell to the person?" Coleman asks. "If somebody says, 'yeah,' then the state is responsible for hooking the people on the gaming, on the lottery."
"You're selling hope," says Rob Kohler, who worked 12 years for the Texas Lottery and is now a private consultant in Austin. It was his analysis of lottery sales data that opened Coleman's eyes, revealing who the majority of heavy players are.
"It's coming from the folks, you know, high minority, low education, and low income," Kohler says. "That can least afford to play the game."
Texas lottery spokesman Bobby Heith does not dispute the data. "The data is what it is. We don't target groups of people," Heith says.
In Texas, Blacks and Hispanics outspend Whites nearly two to one on lottery tickets. According to a 2005 Texas Tech demographic survey commissioned by the lottery, blacks in Texas spend $109 a month on lottery tickets, Hispanics spend $102, and whites spend $55.
"We put out Hispanic ads mainly because for Spanish speaking people. I mean, it's good business," Heith says. "We don't want to prey on anybody. We're here to run a business for the state."
The Texas lottery spends $30 million dollars a year on advertising, pushing 70 kinds of instant tickets, and none more popular or pricey than the new $50 scratch off, the costliest in the nation.
"Lottery products in convenience stores here in Texas have gone from competing with candy bars - a dollar - to now the lottery product is the most expensive product in the entire store," Kohler says.
Nationwide, according to the last National Gambling Impact Commission study, in 1999, 5% of lottery players are responsible for 50% of sales. Families making $50-to-100,000 a year spend, on average $200 a year on lottery tickets, while families making less than $25-thousand dollars spend $600, or three times as much.
But lottery officials, like Tennessee Lottery President Rebecca Hargrove, who has run lotteries in four states, resist the idea that their games prey on the poor.
"If you spend a dollar and you make $20,000 a year, that's a bigger percentage of your disposable income, then if you spend a dollar and you make $50,000 a year," Hargrove says.
"So, if I'm making $20,000 a year," Armen asked her, "it's a wise choice for me to spend my disposable income on a lottery ticket rather than putting it in a bank in a savings account?"
"I didn't say it was a wise choice. I said it was an individual's choice," Hargrove replied.
As one regular player in Houston's third ward told us: "A lot of us can get rich with knowledge. Some of us have to get rich with luck."