Food For Thought

Gambling For Education 

by John E. Bonfadini, Ed.D.,
Contributing Columnist
Professor Emeritus, George Mason University

John E. Bonfadini
John E. Bonfadini

Recently while driving down a local highway, I couldnít help noticing the big numbers displayed high in the air on an outdoor billboard. The lottery jackpot was over $200 million. A little voice in my head kept saying it could all be mine if I just picked the right six numbers (Can you say ďdream big?Ē).

I turned my car around and headed for the nearest convenience store to buy some lottery tickets. I rushed through the door just in time to wait in a long line, since other folks had the same idea ó we all wanted to get rich quick. I dropped a new Andrew Jackson on the counter and the computer spit out 20 combinations of six numbers. That night I watched anxiously as the evening news announced the winning combination, and like millions of other lottery players, my dreams went down the drain. Iíve often thought about what Iíd do if I won that much money. Most of us would take care of our familiesí needs. Some of us old-timers will remember the TV show The Millionaire whose star millionaire, Michael Anthony, gave out money to needy people. Iíd like to be in that situation.

Who Benefits from the Lottery?

The Virginia Lottery folks say lottery profits will benefit our kidsí education. Knowing that the money was going to support schools made me feel much better about having one less Andrew Jackson in my wallet. A country store in Rixeyville displayed a replica of a $36,628 bank check made out to Virginia Education, proceeds provided by customers who purchased tickets at the store. My wife and I had stopped on the way to my sonís house to purchase one of the storeís excellent sandwiches (their hot turkey sub is great). My wife couldnít resist the opportunity to add to the education fund, and purchased some lottery scratch tickets. Again, we drew a blank; but at least this time we were out just a couple of George Washingtons. We probably would have been better off driving five miles further down the road and putting the money in the grandkidsí piggy bank.

Somehow, funding the kidsí education with gambling dollars just doesnít seem right. Our founding fathers knew that education would be the basis of a democratic government. We can argue whether education is primarily a state or federal function, but the founding fathersí establishing land as the basis for the educational-revenue stream showed great wisdom. Some of us may disagree and think that our real-estate taxes are too high; but the fact remains that public-education success is directly related to land as the basis for funding education.

Legislatures are looking for the easy way out when they promote gambling schemes whose primary purpose is to supply funds for education. Neighboring states are promoting slot machines as a way to raise additional funds for education. They have even suggested using the funds to help the elderly. If you donít like to scratch tickets or pull levers, you can visit the local track and bet on the ponies. Were all of these activities designed to support our kidsí education? Imagine local schools offering bingo Ė theyíd probably run into stiff opposition from local fire companies and some churches that have cornered the bingo market. It seems much less painful purchasing a bingo card than putting funds into an envelope for the church collection basket. Perhaps the same principle could apply to education ó itís easier to buy a lottery ticket than to pay a tax bill.

More Games of Chance than Ever

I donít have anything against games of chance. Iíve pulled a few levers and bet on the trotters in my time. I purchase lottery tickets and visit Atlantic City or Vegas on special occasions. We occasionally go to the dog tracks in Florida when visiting the grandkids. But speaking of grandkids, I just donít want their education depending on their grandparentsí desire to gamble ó let state gambling proceeds be used to support the salaries of general assembly members or the governor. I can envision the day when the local school principal who needs money for text books makes an announcement encouraging students to ask their parents to buy more lottery tickets. Something about this concept is just wrong.

Gambling is made so easy. I could switch the screen while writing this article and gamble. The Internet brings Vegas to almost every home. Itís football season and we have fantasy football, and local office pools are already gearing up. ESPN has a new hit program, the World Series of Poker. In a few years it will probably have a higher TV rating than the baseball world series.

Games of chance are everywhere. This proliferation will probably lead to more gamblers anonymous programs for gambling addicts. Schools in the future will be encouraged to include gambling addiction as part of their drug, alcohol, and sex education programs. The addition of more time to solving the societal gambling problem will erode math, reading and science scores, which in turn will spark another call for more testing programs.

Connecting gambling to education attempts to make it more legitimate. A word thatís more appropriately tied to gambling is responsibility. Without this ďresponsibilityĒ connection, many of us could get in trouble, including the very kids gambling proceeds are supposed to help.

My family would like to thank the many readers who took the time to write and call expressing their thoughts and prayers for my son, Michael. Your compassionate responses show a side of our society that is often overlooked. It is comforting to know that so many people are willing to share their knowledge, experiences, and prayers with a family they have never met.      óBonfadini family  

Whatís Your View?

Obviously, there are at least two sides to every issue. Do you have a different view? This column is meant to provoke thought, so keep sending comments. Each one is read with the utmost interest. Send e-mail to:, or send written responses to the editor.  Mail will be forwarded to the author.




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