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Is State Gambling Policy “Morality Policy”? Framing Debates Over State Lotteries


  • Kathleen Ferraiolo


The politics of so-called “morality policies” including same-sex marriage, abortion, gun control, and gambling have captured the attention of both the public and political scientists in recent years. Many studies have argued that morality policy constitutes a category of public policy that has distinctive characteristics (such as technical simplicity and less amenability to compromise) compared with non-morality policy. However, in a recent contribution Mucciaroni argues that morality “policy” should instead be viewed primarily as a strategy for framing issues. Drawing on examples from the debate over gay rights, Mucciaroni finds that opponents focus on rational-instrumental or procedural frames more so than engaging in “morality talk.” In this study, I seek to extend Mucciaroni's analysis to the issue of lottery gambling in the United States. Drawing on data from legislative records in four states, I find that lottery critics mostly avoid private behavior-based morality arguments. Instead, they criticize government's role in sanctioning lotteries and denounce the negative consequences of gambling. Supporters, meanwhile, emphasize the potential benefits of lottery creation and the importance of allowing the state public a voice on the issue. The results indicate that rational-instrumental arguments coexist alongside morality talk in state lottery debates, and that private behavior morality frames are on the decline while governmental morality frames are on the rise.