This post originally appeared on Maryhaven’s One More Chance website.
The boundaries of zip code 43207 outline an area known as the “South Side” by those who know and love Columbus. It was one of the first developed communities in our city, a neighborhood once dominated by manufacturing plants and diverse working class families.
Today its population continues to be diverse, comprised of 61% white, 30% African American and 4% Latinos. But as plants closed over the years, economic opportunities dwindled. Poverty skyrocketed to 45%, high school drop out rates rose to 30% and the South Side now has the city’s highest number of mortgage foreclosures.
Knowing these facts, you may be surprised to hear that one single line of business drew $16 million from 43207 residents in just one year. That is what people in this area spent on Ohio lottery tickets in 2014. $16 million diverted from food, clothing, housing, transportation or other basic necessities.
As a prevention specialist for Maryhaven’s Gambling Intervention Program, my treatment colleagues tell story after story about the devastating impact gambling addiction has on people, families, friends, co-workers, and even entire communities. Problem gambling often leads to theft, divorce, other addictions, family violence and suicide.
While most people don’t succumb to full-scale gambling addiction, many spend more than they have because they are tempted by “the big pay-off.”
Rationalizing that “you can’t win if you don’t play,” they keep buying and scratching, even though the odds of scoring the big one at the lottery is less than giving birth to identical quadruplets.
We wanted to understand more about the lottery’s impact on the South Side. So with the help of student interns from Capital University School of Social Work, we visited 48 of the 61 stores where lottery tickets are sold in the 43207 zip code area. We compared the ease of access and positioning of lottery tickets to the availability of fresh fruits in these outlets.
What we found was sobering.
Except for the grocery stores, only 9% of the outlets sold fresh fruit. This in a zip code where obesity rates outpace the norm by 10% (40% versus 30%) and where infant mortality is 12 deaths per 1,000 births versus 8 for 1,000 births citywide.
But doesn’t the lottery help pay for schools many ask? In 2014, excess lottery profits amounted to about 10% of lottery revenues. According to our calculations, these revenues (if they were divided equally) brought about $1.7 million to eight Columbus City Schools in the 43207 zip code last year.
$1.7 million to south side schools versus $16 million gone.
Think about how a portion of that $16 million could have benefited South Side families:
- 10% or $1.6 million provides one year of health insurance for 648 people.
- 1% feeds 89 hungry children three square meals a day for a year.
- Or that same 1% — $160,000 — could go a long way to funding desperately needed after-school and weekend youth activities.
As a prevention specialist, I can tell you the pay-off from this investment would be enormous and continue for years to come.
The truth is clear: It doesn’t pay to keep playing to win.