Ohio’s Vaccine Lottery: How DeWine Converted Federal Funds Into A State Giveaway

Below is my column in USA Today on the announcement that Ohio will be using federal relief funds for a lottery giveaway to lure people to take the vaccine.  In the meantime, New York City announced it would give out an array of free items, including a seven-day free Metro card. I have little doubt that such programs can increase participation but the use of millions of federal funds for a give-away program raises issues worthy of debate. However, the lack of any significant limit on spending of these federal funds has made such lotteries possible.

Here is the column:

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) has announced that Ohio is about to run a vaccine lottery with federal funds. The state will give away millions in federal stimulus dollars for people who have received the coronavirus vaccine in an effort to incentivize more Ohioans to take the shot. I have long admired DeWine and there is a noble purpose behind this move. However, the liberty shown over the use of federal money in a giveaway prize operation is breathtaking. However, DeWine is not the only official seeking to literally game the system on pandemic relief funds.

According to DeWine, any Ohioans aged 18 and older who have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine will be entered into a lottery to win $1 million. Beginning May 26, there will be a total of five weekly drawings, with each winner receiving $1 million: All with federal money.

In addition, Ohioans under the age of 18 who are eligible to receive a vaccine will be entered into a separate drawing for the chance to win a four-year full scholarship to any of Ohio’s state colleges and universities, including full tuition, room and board.

Notably, 42 percent of the Ohio population has already received at least one shot. It is not expected that the percentage will get much higher than 70 percent in the most successful programs and will likely result in far less than that number in most states. Thus, the vast majority of those playing the new lottery in Ohio will have already taken the shot without the inducement. For those “players,” this is literally a fun and unexpected gift from their governor using federal funds.

Since when is the federal treasury a source for lottery prizes? Many of us objected to the massive payments given the states with little debate and few controls. It is not surprising the Ohio feels that it can simply give millions away of federal funds to lucky citizens who win the Covid lottery. After all, Congress simply gave Ohio billions in unspecified relief.

Controversies are growing over the seemingly limitless use of such funds. Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont reportedly plans to use $15 million to provide free admission for children at museums. In New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy is planning to give tens of millions from the federal relief to undocumented immigrants. However, these proposals can be defended as supporting individuals or programs impacted by the pandemic in targeted ways.

Under DeWine’s theory, Ohio could give away hundreds of millions in recovery gifts for its citizens due to the failure of Congress to impose responsible and targeted conditions on the use of such funds.  Obviously, such giveaways are enormously popular.  Governors like DeWine can play the house in a gambling operation where no one can lose and some become instant millionaires paid for by citizens across the country. And you do not have to pay a thing. Imagine a casino making that appeal.

To make this gambling model complete, the Ohio Lottery Commission will actually assist in giving away federal funds.

Of course, citizens are not allowed such freedom in relief funds as states. Recently, the Justice Department charged David T. Hines, 29, of Miami, Florida, after he allegedly used Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans in part to buy a 2020 Lamborghini Huracan sports car for approximately $318,000. That is outrageous. Yet, his governor can, according to DeWine, just give Hines one million dollars to buy three Lamborghinis and have money left over new garage to house them.

Why stop there? Next Ohio could offer winners double or nothing on the million if they take the second dose.

DeWine is not the only figure gaming state or federal systems of relief funds.  In San Francisco, teachers have opposed reopening schools full-time despite long-standing and overwhelming evidence that such resumption of in-person classes is low-risk for teachers and high beneficial for the students.  However, San Francisco Unified teachers reportedly offered to let high school seniors return to school before school ends — for one day. By allowing for “in person supervision” not instruction for one day, the schools could grab an additional $12 million under the state incentive program. Groups of students would simply be observed by teachers as they engage in such things as activities that might include “end of high school conversations.”

Since the California legislature did not set a minimum time or require actual instruction, the union suggested an openly fraudulent means to taking the money that did not require teachers to actually teach in person.

DeWine’s giveaway comes at a time when states are reportedly struggling to spend the massive relief funds giving to them in the last relief package.

This problem will only grow as the White House pushes an equally ill-defined infrastructure bill as Democrats argue that “infrastructure” includes a limitless array of social programs. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) tweeted, “Paid leave is infrastructure. Child care is infrastructure. Caregiving is infrastructure.”

If Ohio residents are lucky, they may soon be scratching off numbers to see if they win their Megabucks Infrastructure Prizes.

What is most striking about the Ohio lottery scheme is that it seeks to incentivize citizens to take a free vaccine. We have spent trillions to make this vaccine available. If the federal government wanted to pay citizens to take the vaccine, the proposal would likely have been defeated in Congress. There is broad support for making vaccines easily and accessible, but the decision is left to citizens.

Ohio knows that it could not offer to pay citizens to take the vaccine without incurring high political and financial costs. Instead, it is using a lottery appeal to dangle the chance to be made an instant millionaire despite the odds being ridiculously low (like most lotteries). However, the most aggrieved citizens are likely those in other states. A barber in Nebraska and a teacher in Maryland will be effectively funding the creation of these millionaires. All to induce people to take advantage of a government program costing trillions and meant to protect their lives.

DeWine has not rolled out the new lottery ads of Ohio but he may want to consider the clip from the movie The Color of Money where Fast Eddie Felson declares “Money won is twice as sweet as money earned.”  After all, nothing can be sweeter than being a vaccine Megabucks winner.

16 thoughts on “Ohio’s Vaccine Lottery: How DeWine Converted Federal Funds Into A State Giveaway”

  1. It is a neat trick getting the rest of the country to fund a lottery for certain of Ohio’s citizens. We get to pay in higher inflation and taxes, with absolutely nothing to show for. Meanwhile the Ohioans that have natural immunity by having already contracted the disease get stiffed. This is something that Antifa could really get a lot of people riled up – if they cared at all about this waste of the public purse.

  2. Such a giveaway is disrespectful of both the taxpayer, and those he seeks to induce to take the vaccine.

    People who get the vaccine probably planned to do so anyway.

    Stop trying to force people to get the vaccine. it’s available, and those who want to get the shot, can get the shot. All Covid vaccines available today are under Emergency Use Authorization. It’s a means to facilitate a response to a widespread medical emergency, when you don’t have 10 years to spend in clinical trials. It’s a perfectly valid, critical arrow in the quiver of responses to national or global emergencies. Pressuring anyone to take any vaccine is wrong, but most especially when it’s an EUA.

    Federal law prohibits employers from requiring workers to get any vaccine under an EUA until it has been approved by the FDA under a biologics license application (BLA). In fact, the EUA informational insert is required to be worded, “It is your choice to receive” this vaccine.

    While legal scholars have worked hard to find loopholes in this wording and this law, their doing so is unethical. No one should be forced to have any medical procedure in order to participate in society other than quarantine of an infectious person (i.e. Typhoid Mary or patient with antibiotic-resistant TB) who refuses to do so on their own. People get vaccinated because the vaccine works. The purpose of vaccination is to protect you when you are exposed to those who are contagious. Therefor, you can walk in the general, global public shielded by the immunity conferred by the vaccine. You have the right to get the Covid vaccine, but you shouldn’t have the right to force anyone else to get the Covid vaccine, or any other vaccine. This line of thinking applies to forced school vaccinations, too.

    Does “my body my choice” only refer to the body of a separate human fetus, or does it apply to one’s own body?


    1. I chose the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine for myself. The first shot was a non issue. No symptoms beyond a sore arm. After my second shot, I was extremely fatigued, had a rapid heart rate, and occasionally tachycardia. I was only aware of the high heart rate when it reached 125, which it only did briefly a couple of times. Most of the time my heart rate was 112 -116 the day after the shot. It gradually went down until it went back to normal within a couple of days. The fatigue was enough that I stayed in bed, only getting up to deal with a rattlesnake my son found in the backyard. It definitely had more side effects than a tetanus shot.

      I did not experience any nausea or chills, or any other symptoms that I was aware of. I’ll definitely take it over getting Covid. A simple cold is one of my biggest asthma triggers, so I dreaded getting Covid-19.

      While the fatigue and rapid heart rate weren’t fun, I far preferred it over getting the disease itself. I appreciated the peace of mind.

      But this was my own, personal, risk-benefit analysis. Everyone needs to make their own decisions about what to put in their body. If someone does not want to get the vaccine because they already had Covid-19, they want to give this vaccine more time to see how the public tolerates it, they want to wait until it has a BLA approval from the FDA, or if it’s none of my business why they don’t want it, that’s their right.

      There is a valid argument that without a high enough rate of immunity, medical care can be strained or insufficient. See India. Covid-19 infection itself confers an immunity that should be studied. Doctors should be running titers on patients who recovered from Covid-19 to see how long immunity lasts.

      It should be the rate of immunity that is calculated for the US, vaccination plus acquired immunity after infection, not just the rate of vaccination. I suppose natural immunity, i.e. resistance, could be added if that parameter can be measured.

    2. The author fails to mention that DeWine OWNS stock in drug companies and also received political funding from them

  3. Someday we are going to have to pay for all this crap. The American people are acting like an addicted drug addict. They can’t get enough of the free stuff. China is going to have to keep manufacturing stuff for us. We are not going back to work.

  4. Many states make gambling illegal in part because of moral considerations. The state will now promote gambling. Those who took the vaccine voluntarily will now know that they should have waited for the state to pay them to do what many people think was the correct thing to do.

    There is something wrong with the logic. Of course, this is the way the left works. The left has lousy policy, but they give away a lot of freebies. The left takes money from one pocket and puts it in the other (less their share) knowing that too many people are worried about not getting their perk.

    Bad government policy.

  5. I am not sure what to think. Getting people the shot is good for all even if it means incentivizing the shot. Yet, it bothers me that one needs to do so to get citizens to do the right thing from the start. I wonder what happens if the government turns around and demands their money back it they do not like the game. I just hope this is a move out of desperation as a one time fix and not the start or another entitlement. I hope this does not carry with the booster or flu shot in the fall.

  6. Whatever it takes to get uninformed people to get the shots is worth it. Otherwise we will be going thru this again and again.

  7. If the vaccine is so great, why bribe people to get it? Something’s wrong here…. not to mention using federal money to do this. But hey, we got rid of the bad orange man.

  8. The troops 8n Afghanistan get paid. Congressmen get paid. Mail delivery folks get paid. Bird all not a give away

  9. Mike Dewine was defeated after 2 terms in the Senate by one of the least consequential (and that is a low bar) members of the Senate. Not being able to resist the public paycheck, he ran for AG and then Governor.
    That history and this waste of taxpayer debt (we went into debt to provide this windfall) shows why we need an entirely different class of politician.
    Republican or Democrat, they can’t resist trying to bribe us with our own money.

    1. Sherrod Brown is not inconsequential. He has managed to win and hold his Senate seat with relative ease in a state that has trended Republican in statewide elections for some time. And he has done so while maintaining one of the most liberal voting records in the Senate.

      If the Democrats don’t appreciate him, they should.

  10. Federal response- require proof of vaccination to acquire the Real ID driver’s license.

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