The illusion of local aid: Extractive and distributive effects of the Massachusetts State Lottery on cities and towns
This study in fiscal sociology explores the extractive and distributive effects of the Massachusetts State Lottery (MSL) on the state's 351 cities and towns. In Massachusetts, lottery profits are distributed as local aid that is intended to have an “equalizing” effect. This investigation was prompted, in part, by political controversy over the MSL's redistributive impact. Critics of the MSL argue that it functions as a “reverse Robin Hood,” whereas proponents stress its “fiscal friendliness” to all communities—poor and wealthy alike.
This study differs from most previous lottery research in two major respects. First, it examines the tax incidence of the MSL with regard to geopolitical communities, rather than individuals. Second, it examines the MSL's distributive effects in addition to its extractive effects. Conceptualization of lottery ticket expenditure as a property of communities allows for comparison of the dollar amount paid into the MSL system by a community in relation to the amount it receives back in the form of lottery aid.
Multiple regression analysis strongly suggests that the relationship between community level of affluence and per capita ticket expenditure is curvilinear, that the proportion of community income spent on lottery tickets decreases as income increases, and that the number of lottery agents per capita decreases as community affluence increases. Although no evidence is found of a “reverse Robin Hood” pattern of redistribution across all communities, a “take from the poor and give to the rich” effect is noticeable with respect to some cities and towns.
This research illuminates the Lottery as a mechanism whereby the State exerts power over both individuals and communities as consumers of lottery tickets, payers of the lottery tax, and purported beneficiaries of its proceeds. It demonstrates the fruitfulness of investigating the real, as opposed to purported, effects of state finance policies. By determining who taxation and expenditure policies really benefit, how they benefit, and to what degree, sociologists can illuminate their political content and demonstrate that they are powerful tools of the State—tools that may be used to serve the interests of particular social groups, be they economic classes or geopolitical communities.
0617: Public administration