by John Grooms
When North Carolina cranked up the lottery, critics predicted it would be a drain on poorer citizens, desperate to augment their meager, or nonexistent, wages. Lottery supporters scoffed at the prediction, saying it was just one more liberal bleeding heart concern, and there was nothing to worry about. It's probably true that those who opposed the lottery may have been liberals (although it would be hard to convince the fundamentalist religious groups who fought the lottery on moral grounds), and they may or may not have had bleeding hearts. But a new report on the lottery, based on hard facts and figures, is pretty definitive in its findings: The poorest counties in North Carolina are where the most money is spent on lottery tickets. The report, Hope and Hard Luck, was put together by NC Policy Watch and shows conclusively that where hard-to-shake poverty and high unemployment reign, so do lottery ticket sales.
In the 2009-2010 fiscal year, North Carolina averaged $200 in lottery sales per adult. In Mecklenburg County, spending on lottery tickets came to $147 per adult; surrounding counties had similar numbers, except for Catawba County, where the percentage of citizens living below the poverty line reached nearly 14 percent and lottery sales came to $218 per capita. In mountainous McDowell County, where the percentage living in poverty is 23 percent, lottery spending rose to $318 per capita. The heaviest lottery buyers, however, were in the more poverty-stricken counties of eastern N.C., such as Halifax County ($472 per capita, 24 percent live below poverty line), or Edgecomb County ($469 per capita, 22.6 percent below poverty line).
The report includes a link to an interactive map of the state, color-coded for different levels of lottery sales; you can click onto each county for its particular information and compare it to other areas stats. You can also overlay a graphic onto the state map to see which counties have poverty levels above the 20 percent level. So, make of the research and facts what you will, but theres no denying that those who opposed a lottery on grounds that the cost would fall heaviest on poorer areas were right on the money. So to speak.