Opinion

Our View: Illinois vaccine lottery isn’t worth the risk

The state continues to use gambling as a way to increase revenue. Now it’s a way to get citizens vaccinated.

The state unveiled a program last week automatically entering any Illinoisan vaccinated against COVID-19 into a lottery for $10 million in prizes. The “All In for the Win” vaccine lottery will award $7 million in cash prizes for adults, as well as $3 million in scholarships for youth ages 12 to 17.

The plan is to induce more people to get vaccinated by July 1, which qualifies citizens for the first drawing to be conducted by the Illinois Lottery on July 8. Drawings continue into August.

Prizes will include cash payments from $100,000 to $1 million. Scholarships would be Bright Start 529 savings plans worth $150,000. The money for the program comes from the federal American Rescue Plan.

While the lottery encourages more people to get vaccinated, this sets a bad example. There has to be another way to get people vaccinated without making it yet another game of chance.

Nearly 6 million people in Illinois – or 47% of the state’s population – are fully vaccinated. Vaccinations are working and the state’s COVID-19 positivity rate continues to plummet.

The Illinois Department of Public Health reminds us vaccinations are free for Illinoisans at a variety of locations, such as mass vaccination sites, local health departments, pharmacies, doctors’ offices and Federally Qualified Health Centers.

To participate in the lottery, the state is using information collected when the vaccine was administered. Anyone having received at least their first dose by July 1 is eligible for prizes in the first drawing.

What’s concerning is Illinois continues to incorporate the lottery and other gaming into our daily lives, normalizing what once was considered a vice.

Last year, the state legalized gambling on pro sports. Now, every other commercial on Cubs, White Sox, Bulls and Blackhawks games are for gambling websites. “Get your money now” equates to “Having trouble paying your rent this month? Put down a bet and get your money now.”

It was just a generation ago when if you wanted to place a bet on a sporting event, you had to find a bookie. It was a crime. Today, all you have to do is register in person at a gaming site and you can place a bet anytime you want from the comfort of your living room couch.

While the vaccine drawing isn’t sports betting, it is tied to the Illinois Lottery’s system that has a direct link on its homepage to the Illinois Alliance on Problem Gambling. This should make us all stop and think about what that says to our citizens, including the teens who have a chance to win a scholarship.

Maybe some of that $10 million in lottery prize money to be distributed to vaccinated winners should be targeted toward spreading the message about why it’s important to get a vaccine. Or, better yet, those who still are unsure of whether to get vaccinated should talk to someone they trust, such as their family doctor or specialist.

The vaccine lottery, like all gambling, is a game of chance. It will be lucrative for the handful of winners, and disappointing for the millions of their fellow vaccinated citizens whose number doesn’t come up.

There’s no question the lottery rewards are substantial. But we could do so much better when it comes to the message the state shares about keeping its citizens safe and healthy.