Race Enters Debate Over Proposed South Carolina Lottery
New ads by opponents of South Carolina’s proposed lottery say the result would be middle-class students attending college on the backs of poor people more likely to gamble.
One opponent says the argument risks injecting race into the debate.
Voters will be asked to decide Nov. 7 whether to drop the state’s constitutional prohibition against lotteries. Supporters, including first-term Democratic Gov. Jim Hodges who was elected partly on a promise to seek a lottery, say the state’s schools need the money.
Opponents say a state that just got rid of video poker, which had spread like kudzu, doesn’t need any other gambling temptations.
Ads put out by No Lottery 2000 that aired in late September featured an announcer talking about Georgia’s lottery and the HOPE scholarships funded by proceeds from the betting.
“But the kids who get the scholarships come from families with incomes 40 percent above the state average. That means middle- and upper-class students are going to college on the backs of the poor,” the voice intones, as a White hand writes on a green chalkboard, “On the backs of the poor.”
That imagery is about as close as it comes to playing the race card, says Doug Woodard, a Clemson University political scientist and lottery opponent.
In the South, poor “equates usually to Black families,” Woodard says. “Income and race are pretty highly correlated in South
“They’re playing the race card all the time,” says Rep. John Scott, a Black Columbia Democrat and co-chairman of Hodges’ Education Lottery Coalition.
Many of the state African Methodist Episcopal churches have issued a strong statement opposing the lottery. In recent weeks, Hodges has met with Black ministers in an effort to get them to stay neutral on the issue. A similar proposal by a first-term Democratic governor for a lottery in Alabama was defeated last year.
Kathy Bigham, chairwoman of No Lottery 2000, says her group was “absolutely not” trying to make it a racial issue. “We’re just using data. We can back up everything that we say,” she says.
In news conferences around the state, lottery opponents used the same script to describe winners and losers and specified that lottery-funded scholarships are “even worse news for African American students. They’re the ones most likely to lose HOPE after two years and most likely to drop out of college if they lose their assistance.”
Woodard says winning Black votes is crucial for lottery opponents. “I don’t think it’s a mistake. I think it’s one of the strongest cards to play,” he says.
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