It never mattered who would win the election for mayor when it came to one thing: The next four years will be a time of Biblical proportions. Somewhere between the plagues of Exodus and the sufferings of Job.
The legal question was resolved by drafting an amendment to the state constitution. The moral question was settled by approval of that amendment by a majority of the voters. In hindsight, the fuss back then seems quaint, like moral objections to drinking or rock-and-roll, because the lottery is now so thoroughly embedded in Tennessee daily life. Buying a lottery ticket at one of the 5,000 outlets is as easy as buying a tank of gas or a can of soda, and “fun” lottery advertisements saturate the airwaves.
Earlier this year, the governor of Alabama, which does not have a lottery, said he would not support one because it is “like leisure suits — 30 years old and everybody already has one” and therefore Alabama would not reap any new money from nonresidents.
In other words, state-sanctioned gambling has gone from being ungodly to simply unfashionable in less than 15 years.
The head honchos of the lottery, sometimes known as the Tennessee Education Lottery, boast of awarding more than $3 billion in college scholarships aimed at keeping the state’s “best and brightest” students in Tennessee public and private colleges. The amount wagered is four times that much. In 2014 alone, total sales were $1.417 billion. People don’t like to be taxed but they have no objection to taxing themselves if there is even the remotest possibility of a payoff and the thrill of playing the game.
Last year, a Knoxville man won $259.8 million on a Powerball ticket, the biggest prize in Tennessee Lottery history. The fact that he was a former Episcopal monk suggested to some that there was some kind of divine sanction (“answered prayers”) to the enterprise.
A secular analysis is also open to different interpretations. Every year the Tennessee Higher Education Commission puts out a statistics-choked annual report on the scholarships. Here are — what else? — the odds.
The odds of winning the Powerball and getting six numbers right are 175,233,504 to 1. The odds of a kind-hearted former monk doing this as opposed to, say, a mean-spirited, wealthy hedge-fund manager, are astronomical.
The odds of a lottery retailer being black or Asian are 50-50. And the odds are good that there is a lottery retailer in your neighborhood. You can plug in your Zip code on the Tennessee Lottery web page and find out.
The chances of a freshman scholarship recipient finishing college in five years or less with his or her scholarship intact are 31 out of 100. To put this in perspective, the chances of a freshman scholarship recipient graduating in four years with or without the scholarship are 23 out of 100. Of the freshmen who lose their scholarship, 62 percent return to college for their sophomore year. To retain the scholarship students must maintain a 2.75 grade-point average. The scholarship can be renewed for a maximum of five years. Bottom line: Starting college and finishing college are very different things.
The ratio of female to male scholarship recipients is 60-40, which is in line with the percentage of female and male students in college nationally. When the lottery started 40,000 students were on scholarship but by 2013 there were 100,000.
Since 2004 the family-income profile has changed, with fewer students coming from families with under $36,000 in adjusted gross income and more from families with at least $96,000. The biggest income group (31 percent) is families with over $96,000 income. Students with higher family income have higher scholarship renewal rates. Conversely, students from poor families are least likely to keep their scholarships.
The lottery scholarships have been tweaked so many times that it is impossible to list them all. In general, there are more types of scholarships in different amounts aimed at low-income students, high-performing students, and students with high grades but low test scores. Most likely to receive and keep a lottery scholarship are students with high family income, an ACT score of 23 or higher, and a GPA of at least 3.7.
The base award is $4,000 a year, but merit can bump that to as much as $8,250, which covers approximately 90 percent of tuition and fees at a public college. From a financial perspective, then, those most likely to benefit from the lottery are those least likely to need it.