The NY Lottery is a $9.97B dollar industry yet, it is often overlooked that the industry was built on the ingenuity of a Black man and the Black community. After lawmakers stepped in to take over the industry, it resulted in little value add for communities of color. Cannabis, another growing industry, stands to have the same fate unless we take a stand.
In the early 1920’s Casper Holstein, a Black man from the West Indies, revolutionized the lottery by using Clearing House totals as a reliable and tamper-proof method to produce the daily lottery AKA the Numbers. What followed was 60 years of black and brown enterprise, starting in Harlem and spreading all over the country. At the peak of its popularity, the Numbers generated $1.5B in revenue and employed 100,000 people in New York City.
Then Albany wanted it.
Following Albany’s announcement to create a state-runned lottery, the communities of color throughout New York City, led by Harlem politicians, mounted a vigorous fight against the legislation. They marched in the streets, demanding to simply legalize the Numbers game and allow our community members to apply for and run the state-licensed operations. But their demands were met with character bashing by Albany lawmakers as they painted Numbers’ business owners as criminals and tax evaders. Eventually, Albany settled with the community, promising to provide aid to schools. So, state funds were appropriated with the expectation Lottery funds would fill that void.
In September of 1980, the state-operated lottery launched and the Numbers game died.
The Numbers industry collapsed, leaving thousands unemployed. The Times reported an estimated 60% of the five boroughs’ economic life depended on cash flow from the Numbers. Removing the industry triggered a recession as the state took the income from the community and returned us back a bad check, one marked “insufficient funds.”
Now Albany has their sights set on Cannabis. And it’s the same story. They are promising tax revenue to impacted communities and are making little to no effort to provide us with a clear path into the legalized industry as business owners.
Albany’s Bank of Equality is Bankrupt
Governor Cuomo, we do not just want a share of the revenue. We’ve heard this tune before. Instead of offering us a byproduct of the pie, allow us to create the pie. We want to own
businesses, create opportunities for our communities, and ensure there’s no more misappropriation of funds. The shame will be on you, it will be on Albany, but it won’t be on us as we’re ready to take a stand.
Prioritize Social Equity!
Julio Casado is the Chief Executive Officer of Plant Inspired Future, also known as PIF. PIF is a minority-owned Cannabis company committed to advancing the legal cannabis industry in communities of color. He is also the Chairman of La Unidad Latina Foundation, a NYC college access program and national scholarship foundation for low income, first-generation students.