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Game on! Tennessee won't cap lottery winnings for poor

Poor people can rest a little easier in Tennessee tonight. Or at least poor people who play the state lottery.

A bill that would have capped lottery winnings at $600 for anyone receiving state or federal assistance, also called welfare, died in a subcommittee hearing on Wednesday morning, according to its author, state Assembly Rep. Stacey Campfield.

Campfield, a Republican from Knoxville, Tenn., told me in a telephone interview that he was disappointed that his bill died for a lack of a second vote to move it along, but that he may reintroduce it next year.

"I guess people don't mind some people getting subsidized by the lottery," he said.

While some people against the bill disagreed with the government telling people how to spend their money, Campfield said that happens with government food stamps that can't be used for fast food. On a larger scale, it happens with the federal government telling automakers it is bailing out how to spend its money and even fires an auto CEO, he said.

WalletPop wrote about the proposed bill about three weeks ago, when the latest unemployment figures showed Tennessee's unemployment rate at 9.1%. It's now up to 9.6%, according to March figures. The state lottery isn't doing anything to improve employment, Campfield said.

"More people go into poverty through the lottery than the lottery has ever helped," he said, citing figures that 80% of the people playing make up the poorest 20% of the population.

"It's a sucker's bet," Campfield said of the lottery, which would have seen sales drop by 2.37% if his bill became law, according to a state study. "If you play the lottery and expect to win, you are a straight-up fool."

The state lottery has been in Tennessee for about five years, and the state would lose $6.4 million in lottery proceeds if the bill became law and the estimated 294,805 food stamp recipients who bought lottery tickets no longer played the lottery. That figure is from the state's own review, and is half of the people who receive food stamps.

So if half of the people who receive food stamps stop playing the lottery, then half would continue playing if the bill passed, the state found.

For a game where you're more likely to get struck by lightening twice than win big, it's a dream that the poor shouldn't be paying for with money they get from the government, Campfield said.

While he can't reintroduce the bill this year, Campfield said he plans to introduce a new version next year, possibly where welfare recipients who win the lottery would have to first pay back any government welfare money they've received before keeping the rest of their winnings.

Aaron Crowe is an unemployed journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area. Read about his job search at www.AaronCrowe.net



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