Saturday, May 16, 2015

Why you should never, ever play the lottery

By Matt O'Brien
May 14, WashPost

What if I told you there was a $70 billion tax that the poor pay the most. You'd probably say that isn't very fair. But that's exactly what the lottery is: an almost 12-figure tax on the desperation of the least fortunate.

To put that in perspective, that's $300 worth of lottery tickets for every adult every year. But it's actually worse than that, because, as The Atlantic's Derek Thompson points out, researchers have found that the bottom third of households buy more than half of all tickets. So that means households making less than $28,000 a year are dishing out $450 a year on lotteries. And, as a result, everybody else doesn't have to pay the higher taxes they would if gaming revenues weren't underwriting our schools.

So what? Lotteries might be just like a tax for all but the one-in-a-hundred-million who win them, but they're still a voluntary tax. It's not the government's fault that people either don't care or don't realize that, once you account for taxes and the possibility of splitting the pot, it never makes financial sense to buy a lottery ticket. Right? Well, no. It's not that poor people don't understand that the lottery has a near-zero chance of making them dynastically wealthy. It's that they think everything else has an actually-zero chance. That's why, as Thompson highlights, people making less than $30,000 are 25 percent more likely to say that they buy lottery tickets for money than for fun, while it's the opposite for everyone else. State lotteries, in other words, don't just prey on poor people's dreams—they do that for everyone—but rather on desperate dreams.

(More here.)

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