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$100 Invested in 100 $1 Lottery Tickets
May 18, 2013 8:33 PM   Subscribe

The thrill and rush of possibly winning started to wear off after about the twentieth losing ticket. Each card had a couple of “Life” symbols on them, and every time you got a second you just dreamed of seeing the third one under the remaining graphite. However it never appeared and never will and it just kind of turned depressing. How could people put themselves through this humiliation and teasing every day of their lives?
The classic criticism of the lottery is that the people who play are the ones who can least afford to lose; that the lottery is a sink of money, draining wealth from those who most need it. Some lottery advocates . . . have tried to defend lottery-ticket buying as a rational purchase of fantasy—paying a dollar for a day's worth of pleasant anticipation, imagining yourself as a millionaire. But consider exactly what this implies. It would mean that you're occupying your valuable brain with a fantasy whose real probability is nearly zero—a tiny line of likelihood which you, yourself, can do nothing to realize. . . . Which makes the lottery another kind of sink: a sink of emotional energy. [via]
posted by Jasper Friendly Bear (154 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
Well, ya can't win if ya don't play. Or so my Dad says.
posted by gnutron at 8:37 PM on May 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


I won 24 bucks tonight!!!

If by "win" you mean... umm... lose ... 156 dollars.

*hangs head in shame*
posted by symbioid at 8:40 PM on May 18, 2013 [8 favorites]


The self policing of one's head to make sure you're not occupying your head with zero chance fantasies is exhausting. We are not machines, and exhortations to remove such thoughts will do little to change that.
posted by zabuni at 8:43 PM on May 18, 2013 [52 favorites]


My brother calls it a "stupidity tax".
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:43 PM on May 18, 2013 [11 favorites]


Your brother is wrong.
posted by escabeche at 8:44 PM on May 18, 2013 [43 favorites]


The self policing of one's head to make sure you're not occupying your head with zero chance fantasies is exhausting. We are not machines, and exhortations to remove such thoughts will do little to change that.

Well, you've apparently tried it...
posted by LogicalDash at 8:49 PM on May 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


On a related note, I realized tonight that spending $4 to enjoy the fantasy of maybe winning is a lot more enjoyable when if your first thought is God, this would be so nice if this happened...here's what I would do...", as it was today, rather than "Winning this would solve Huge Problem X and Y," as it has been in the past.

That said, my $4 won me nothing, so it looks like the Metafilter Club House in a tropical locale will have to wait for another day.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 8:55 PM on May 18, 2013 [7 favorites]


is this really some great big discovery?
posted by ReeMonster at 8:57 PM on May 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


There's something really... privileged about the disdain in the second link. If only all the poor people who can't afford to blow a couple bucks a week on the lottery would smarten up and fantasize about getting a promotion or taking their startup to IPO instead?

Yeah seriously, why didn't they just go to the best schools only to drop out to start a company like everyone else? Laziness, I'm sure.

I used to call it the stupidity tax too. Then I realized that those are real people, with some pretty desperate problems they see no realistic way out of, that I was insulting to make myself feel smarter.
posted by danny the boy at 8:58 PM on May 18, 2013 [142 favorites]


I play with a group at my work. $20 every 5 weeks, or $208 a year. What does this $20 a pop buy me? Conversation with my coworkers about what we'd buy or do, a common cause to talk about that *isn't* how shitty work is today, an excuse to get excited with friends 2 times a week to check my numbers, an excuse to talk to them about what fun things we'd buy or do, and the occasional winning that makes us happy. It's fun. I just wish we could buy lottery tickets here in Utah instead of driving up to Idaho. At least then our ""stupidity tax"" would benefit our sorely underfunded schools instead of neighboring states' schools. Granted, we aren't the poorest people who can't afford it. But it gives us a group fun thing to do.
posted by msbutah at 8:58 PM on May 18, 2013 [29 favorites]


I have a better chance of winning the lottery than some of my other fantasies coming true. And unlike many of my fantasies I'd be okay with the lottery win coming true while many of the others would actually terrify me.
posted by srboisvert at 8:58 PM on May 18, 2013 [11 favorites]


I actually in the past won small sums from lotto. I am however not any longer a player. I used to buy one ticket. I played the number of a guy I knew who was in prison. I always played the same number. As I said, a few times I won small sums.
Did a LOT better at the track because apparently, I know a good horse when I see one, and know a bad jockey when I see one.
I also know when a horse is not having a good day.
I don't think lotto is really worth anyone's time. Basic probability theory should show you why.
I prefer keeping the money and buying something like food.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 9:01 PM on May 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


Earlier, when I saw an article about the massive crowds of people going to buy Powerball tickets, I wondered to myself what I would say if, having claimed the prize, I was asked by someone what I was planning on doing with the $600 million. After the thought "I would buy 600 million lottery tickets, because I'm on a roll!" bubbled to the surface, I had one of the best laughs I've had some time.
posted by feloniousmonk at 9:03 PM on May 18, 2013 [22 favorites]


Yes, it's a sink of emotional energy. Would you rather have that energy converted to frustration, then rage, then your death at the hands of a mob who see you as an elitist?

Just because you feel you've clearly seen the truth of the matter... maybe it's not that simple after all?

The masses need their opiates, they get quite uppity without them.
posted by MikeWarot at 9:04 PM on May 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Anyone who becomes hugely wealthy gets that way through sheer dumb luck -- the infinitesimally small chance that your particular abilities will align with the right sort of opportunities at just the right time and that you'll be lucky enough to meet the right people, learn the right things, say yes or no at the right times, all with very limited ability to tell for sure what is the "right" thing to do at that precise moment.

Yes, I consider Mark Zuckerberg, Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, etc., to be no more meritorious than lottery winners.

Someone hoping to become a lottery winner is really no less rational than someone who is working to become the next Mark Zuckerberg. The odds are equally against them but for some reason we only ridicule the former.
posted by Unified Theory at 9:08 PM on May 18, 2013 [56 favorites]


For some people, it's entertainment. A couple of bucks buys you a daydream cheaper than a movie ticket.

For some people, as unlikely as it is to win, it still represents their best chance of becoming a multi-millionaire.

There are a lot worse things to spend money on. Nobody has ever died of lottery cancer.
posted by Foosnark at 9:12 PM on May 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


I've felt this way since I was a little kid.

I just... don't think playing the lottery is fun at all. I get that it's "paying a dollar for a cheap day's worth of anticipation". But... you can anticipate all you want for free.

Also, if I'm blowing a dollar on a frivolous pleasure, I'd so much rather a Big Gulp Slurpee, or a used paperback, or some quirky thrift store weirdness, or the seasonal clearance rack at the supermarket right after Halloween or Easter (I love candy shut up).

I get that everybody has their little pleasures, and I don't want to deny anyone, but I've always felt like a lottery ticket was a waste of a dollar that could be better spent on Forever 21 novelty socks.
posted by Sara C. at 9:17 PM on May 18, 2013 [26 favorites]


Yes, the lottery is stupid. But you know? I go to the same corner bodega almost every damn day for a soda and some snacks. They sell lottery tickets. Whenever the jackpot's some huge number (by huge, I mean when it's 9 figures or so, which I only notice because they put up a sign that says the jackpot's huge), I buy a couple tickets or so--generally out of whatever's left over from the $10 I used to buy the drink and snacks. (If I use cash. Sometimes I use a card, so, whatevs.)

Sure, I could save that for another day, but to be honest, I don't need to; I'm comfortable. I honestly don't really know how much each ticket costs, or what the difference is between Powerball and Mega Millions. Do I spend much time thinking about it? Nah, the computer picks the numbers. Do I expect to win? Pfft, what am I, an idiot? I generally don't even check the numbers to see. But it's a conversation thing with the guy behind the counter, whom I know by name. The store, I presume, gets a commission on every ticket they sell. So really, what's the harm?

We get to goof around for a minute or so, while he rings me up, and on the off chance I win, they probably get a kickback too. *shrugs*

(Now, if they *don't* get a commission on each ticket, I admit, that does take away one of the reasons I don't mind pissing away a few dollars now and then for that. Just means one more beer at the local bar for me.)
posted by qcubed at 9:22 PM on May 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


My late father threw $5-10 a week at California's Lotto games. One of many things I didn't like seeing him do but knew I shouldn't criticize him out loud. He used to pick 'personal numbers', including his or my birthday, so it was a bit of a jolt to see as the first two numbers of this $590M jackpot were 10 and 13 (his birthday was October 13), but I could identify no other numbers he would consider personal.
posted by oneswellfoop at 9:26 PM on May 18, 2013


What irks me is when "lotto fever" it is paraded around on local news many times being the first story of the broadcast
posted by robbyrobs at 9:27 PM on May 18, 2013 [7 favorites]


My secret dumb gambling weakness is keno. I absolutely cannot resist dive bar keno.
posted by nathancaswell at 9:33 PM on May 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


I look at it in terms of the risk to potential reward ratio. One buck a week isn't a big risk for me (luckily). The potential reward is millions. Yes the probability is very low, but the possibility doesn't exist without taking the small risk. What other things can you spend a dollar on to potentially change your life?

Of course, if a dollar is really important to you -- for instance if it's the difference between eating and not -- then that risk to reward ratio is very different.
posted by DrumsIntheDeep at 9:34 PM on May 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


the possibility doesn't exist without taking the small risk

I'd like to hear a ballpark figure - what's the difference in probability for buying a winning lottery ticket and finding a winning ticket in the street? Bet it is not so huge.
posted by Meatbomb at 9:43 PM on May 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


I didn't buy any Powerball tickets this week. Sometimes I'll pick one up when the jackpot gets really huge, but on balance I find it emotionally exhausting. If I don't buy a ticket, then I know for sure I didn't win. If I buy one, then I start thinking... what if... and then when I don't win I am filled with abject despair.
posted by Daily Alice at 9:43 PM on May 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm very surprised there is a vocal pro-lottery crowd on Metafilter. Could there be a more clear example of the state abusing its power to siphon money out of the economically disadvantaged?
posted by deathpanels at 9:54 PM on May 18, 2013 [25 favorites]


At least with this type of gambling, your money is more likely to be spent on something that benefits your community.
posted by Brocktoon at 10:00 PM on May 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Could there be a more clear example of the state abusing its power to siphon money out of the economically disadvantaged?

Pennsylvania has state-owned liquor stores, and while lots of people rail against the inconvenience and inefficiency of the state store system, I never hear it spoken of in the same moralistic terms I hear people condemn the lottery: and a state liquor seller is actually dispensing a well-documented poison and public health hazard with enormous social costs associated with it.

One of the reasons for a state lottery is to give the public an outlet for legal gambling while channeling the money back into public services, rather than enriching small-time bookies.

I'm not going to lie: I bought a few powerball tickets this week. I also enjoy alcohol. Both gambling and alcohol cause a lot of societal damage, and yet I participate. Why get riled up about one but not the other?
posted by deanc at 10:05 PM on May 18, 2013 [16 favorites]


It would mean that you're occupying your valuable brain with a fantasy whose real probability is nearly zero—a tiny line of likelihood which you, yourself, can do nothing to realize. . . .

Does this mean I will not be having a passionate yet intellectual affair with Emma Thompson any time soon? Because I've been wasting a lot of time on that.

Not to mention the question of how one measures the "value" of a brain. I'll take quietly enjoying my fantasies long with everything else it does, thanks.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:06 PM on May 18, 2013 [6 favorites]


What irks me is when "lotto fever" it is paraded around on local news many times being the first story of the broadcast

On lotteries where the jackpot accumulates it sometimes becomes the case that the expected value of one's winnings would be greater than the cost of buying a ticket. Strange things start happening, like people trying to systematically buy every ticket combination.

"It's rational to buy a lottery ticket today!" That's newsworthy. Man bites dog.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 10:06 PM on May 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


My mother spent her final years fantasizing about winning the lottery, she bought lots of Powerball tickets and often spoke about what she'd do with all that money. She used to buy all sorts of junk from Publisher's Clearing House in the belief that it would increase her chances of winning their lottery. PCH lost a lawsuit over exploiting people (mostly vulnerable elderly people) and were required to disclose that buying their crap didn't increase your odds of winning, and to stop mailing people on request (even requests of family members). I used to phone them time and time again but they kept sending solicitations. They'd just send her name and address to some other division of the company that wasn't officially called Publisher's Clearing House, and keep mailing her catalogs and crap. I think they sold her name to every sucker list in the world.

After she died, I had her mail forwarded to me, while clearing up the estate. Now my mailing address is attached to her name on the sucker list. To this day, more than 8 years later, I still get sucker solicitations in her name. For example, I get annual bulk mailings for quack vitamins from Bausch & Lomb that were supposed to preserve her vision as she slowly went blind. I call them and beg them to stop, and tell them these annual mailings just evoke memories of her slow, agonizing death. The phone agent is horrified, and agrees to stop. And then I get another solicitation in the mail the next year.

There is a cascade of misery emitted by the lottery that affects people directly and indirectly. I only hope the sum total of all the misery they inflict on millions of people is visited back upon them in the eternal pits of hell.
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:08 PM on May 18, 2013 [26 favorites]


I'm very surprised there is a vocal pro-lottery crowd on Metafilter. Could there be a more clear example of the state abusing its power to siphon money out of the economically disadvantaged?

Forget abuse for a moment: how is the lottery a use of state power in the first place? It isn't compulsory. Exercises and certainly abuses of state power tend to be coercive and deterministic in some important respect, or else they would not matter.
posted by clockzero at 10:11 PM on May 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm very surprised there is a vocal pro-lottery crowd on Metafilter. Could there be a more clear example of the state abusing its power to siphon money out of the economically disadvantaged?

I'm not so much pro-lottery as I am in favor of letting people waste their money however they want to, provided it doesn't actively lead to harming other people. Is the lottery truly worse for peoples' health than, say, cigarettes, weed, or alcohol? I don't really think so.

Is it a dumb fucking decision to blow $100 on tickets a week? Yeah, probably. But I probably shouldn't judge them too harshly when I make the idiotic decision to spend $25 a week on two packs of cigarettes that's far more likely to give me cancer than someone's ticket.
posted by qcubed at 10:11 PM on May 18, 2013 [12 favorites]


But... you can anticipate all you want for free.

Please tell me you don't extend this philosophy to your dating life because that would be sad.
posted by GuyZero at 10:11 PM on May 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Dating is an actually fun thing to do (mostly).

Buying a lottery ticket isn't, and the daydreams that come along with it are free.
posted by Sara C. at 10:24 PM on May 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Lotteries might have non-trivial political effects, too.

A poor person buying lottery tickets and dreaming of being wealthy will probably not be quite as worked up about increasing income disparities as his or her non-lottery playing compatriots, all other things being equal.
posted by jamjam at 10:29 PM on May 18, 2013 [16 favorites]


I generally disapprove of state-sanctioned gambling because of the social costs, but I mind the lottery a lot less than I mind casinos or even bar video poker machines, because there isn't the same compulsive behavior associated with the lottery. I'd rather my state just have a better progressive taxation structure to fund needed state services and NOT have a lottery, but I'm not nearly as worried about the lottery as about riverboat casinos or check-n-go places.

The lottery seems more like wearing your football team colors to work on Friday than like gambling -- just a way to put a little skin in an ultimately meaningless game that gives everybody something to talk about and find amusing. Many forms of entertainment prey on people who are compulsive or people who aren't particularly financially savvy -- including pro sports and cable TV and pornography. The lottery isn't great, but it's not as bad as many other forms of entertainment can be for people who are compulsive or easily persuaded to drop a lot of cash on status objects.

I have exactly one time bought one Powerball ticket, when they were still only $1 and it was some crazy huge jackpot, and I won $2. CAN'T BEAT THAT IN THE STOCK MARKET!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:32 PM on May 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


Except for the outlier stores like this:

http://www.kmov.com/news/crime/Police-Woman-stole-nearly-250000-from-office-in-Bridgeton-207964961.html

how much do "the poor" actually lose per annum on the lottery? for most lotto players, i imagine the number is, relatively speaking, not that large. So, yes, it's stupid. Yes, the odds are horrible. Yes, you should probably stop doing that. But in the end, how much damage is done to most people? If we replace the word "lotto" with the word "beer", does it change anything? You get literally nothing from the experience (except maybe a hangover or even worse, an std). It's money you literally piss down the drain. It's taxed a lot, ensuring that the poor pay more for it than do the wealthy. It's regulated by the state. But seldom do we see an article complaining about how stupid "the poors" are for buying a six pack.
posted by readyfreddy at 10:36 PM on May 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Dating is an actually fun thing to do (mostly).

Not to mention that it's a way more efficient way to take risks. How many of you have been in a relationship? How many of you have won the lottery?
posted by indubitable at 10:51 PM on May 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Anyone who becomes hugely wealthy gets that way through sheer dumb luck -- the infinitesimally small chance that your particular abilities will align with the right sort of opportunities

Working hard so that you'll be ready to take advantage of potential opportunities is by no means a sure thing, but there's an exponentially better chance of that working out for you than Powerball's 1 in 175 million.
posted by the jam at 10:58 PM on May 18, 2013 [9 favorites]


I'm with Sara C: if I am going to blow my money on stuff, I want to take something home with me. Even if it's a gumball, and I don't LIKE gumballs. I do think it's at least fun to scratch off someone's Scratchers though-- my mom would give me some periodically--and I used to be excited at the idea of buying my own when I turned 18. But to this day, I've never bothered to buy one.

But my coworkers play the Powerball every week and daydream (rather loudly) about what they'd do if they won. Why? Because that is literally their only hope of ever "getting out of here" (short of retirement, which a good chunk of them are still about 3-5 years off from doing, if not longer). They're never going to make any more money than they do right now at the age they're at and the jobs they're in. What else is going to give them hope when there isn't any in reality?

I don't do it myself, but I can't razz them for it either.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:04 PM on May 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's not so uncommon to find weekly lottery syndicates made up of the analysts and mid-level executives from the same sector/product team in investment banks. sometimes even their managing director/boss chips in.
posted by Bwithh at 11:12 PM on May 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Topsy-turvy experience for me, this thread.

I've never played the lottery or an office pool and I've only gambled during one visit to Las Vegas for a MeFi meetup where I played the slots a few times. The lottery is, to me, like setting money on fire.

But when I read that quote from the second link, and then the full blog entry, I found that it annoyed the living shit out of me — it was like being trapped in the corner of a Mensa meeting by a randroid who feels that it's terribly important RIGHT NOW that he explain how everyone else in the world is both stupid and willfully self-deluded.

The author's argument: that all of our fantasy must have material utility, as a means for realizing potential (material!) self-actualization. If not, we're broken.

I know who's broken, and it's not all of us.

And the first link is like someone blogging the exotic experience of visiting a "Burger King" where he purchased something called a "cheeseburger and fries" and how, as he'd expected, the meal was wrapped in paper and plastic.

Okay, but then I am reading comments here saying, hey, there's nothing exploitative about government lotteries, they're voluntary, right? And it's not like the government doesn't run liquor stores or tax tobacco.

Well, lottery revenue isn't ultimately some kind of magical additional revenue. It ends up replacing tax revenue, allowing for similar levels of services while shifting the tax burden into a very regressive format. Government owned liquor/beer stores weren't conceived as, nor primarily exist as, sources of revenue. But this what lotteries are, wholly and essentially. There were no 600 million dollar lotteries before the government created them. This is not running a market as a means of strictly regulating it, this is creating the market.

This isn't like the government taxing tobacco or gasoline or alcohol or marijuana or 44 ounce sugary drinks. It's like the government inventing a new addictive drug, marketing it particularly to poor people, and using the revenue to provide services for the middle-class.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:26 PM on May 18, 2013 [54 favorites]


My wife does the sneery "We'll never WIN! We never win ANYTHING! You know the odds are AWFUL! Words words words!" every time I buy one, but every now and again I win a few bucks and get to be smug about it for a while and a dollar every now and then for that kind of smug is more than worth it and if I ever win several million dollars from it I will be so inflated with smug you can put a gondola under me and use me to give tours of the Texas Hill Country.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 11:30 PM on May 18, 2013 [18 favorites]


At this point, I tend to consider a state run lottery to be essentially the same thing as state and federal funded student loans: it's nothing more than a government institution taxing an individual's hopes and dreams. While many folks are fond of saying "you can't win if you don't play" statistically speaking, you can't win even if you do play. You'd be better off dropping that money into a passbook savings account. At least you're guaranteed to not lose it and you'll benefit a little from the small amount of interest accrued over time.
posted by Siempre La Luna at 11:32 PM on May 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


The classic criticism of the lottery is that the people who play are the ones who can least afford to lose

But I think that criticism is wrong, at least in its implication that only those people play. I wouldn't say I'm a big lottery player, maybe two or three times a year I get the impulse. When I do, though, part of the thought process, in spite of knowing I won't win, is what the hell. I'd spend a few bucks on a coffee anyway; it's not like I can't afford to waste two dollars for fucks' sake.

I assume that if I were really in a tough financial situation where that two bucks already had some food's name on it, I'd never play the lotto. On the other hand, maybe I would, figuring you gotta have some fun in life. But probably no more often than I do now.

The only thing wrong with the lottery is if you start to count on winning something.
posted by ctmf at 11:40 PM on May 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


What is more disturbing to me is the actual end result for the winners. I think in many or even the majority of cases, winning the lottery ruins the winner's life. Friends and family come out of the woodwork asking for money. You quickly lose track of who you can trust. "Winners" have even ended up being murdered. Many of them die penniless. The reality as it is incredibly hard to be prepared for going from broke to extremely wealthy overnight. Throw in the fact the much of it happens in the public eye makes it all worse.
posted by ill3 at 11:49 PM on May 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


The UK has a rather more sedate version of this; there's an instrument sold by the state called a Premium Bond. PBs have a 1.5% interest rate distributed unevenly across the bonds, so you could win a million or you could win nothing. Crucially, you can withdraw the capital whenever you wish.

Enjoy your slightly saner lottery!
posted by jaduncan at 12:03 AM on May 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


Oh, and they are issued by the UK Treasury, so they are AA+ rated at 1.5% tax free.
posted by jaduncan at 12:05 AM on May 19, 2013


It's not mine, I'm certain I read it on the blue: The Lottery is "renting hope".
posted by sourwookie at 12:09 AM on May 19, 2013


That's what I was thinking. I almost feel like it'd be self-sacrifice to keep everyone you know or even a inner circle from getting your money. I admit that while knowing that I still wouldn't see it if I was in that situation and say one of my uncles suddenly had 600 million dollars. Maybe the logical thing to do would be to just put it all into a worthwhile cause. But if an entire generation of your family didn't have to worry about any educational fees ever again it sure would be free up their minds and hearts for putting themselves into something worthwhile. Then again it would have the to be the same generation that was in that situation currently, cause I'm not sure kids who get their education guaranteed for free really do much with it. Maybe those who are destined to be a little creative or ambitious with the unfortunate reality of a formal education that isn't much of an education at all are the ones who do things that are worthwhile regardless of whether it's paid for or not--barring the most highly functional people who eschew it completely. Then again the number and degree of hardships probably do make a difference in whether you're achieving Flow in career or family life vs beaten and trodden by it all.

But still it'd be harder to just make executive decisions in each thing that came up because of the interrelationship strain that would cause.

Settled. Higher learning of their choice for everyone to use as they see fit, the rest to charity.
posted by legospaceman at 12:14 AM on May 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


"It's rational to buy a lottery ticket today!" That's newsworthy. Man bites dog.
Whether you calculate expected utility (for a typical marginal utility of dollars which rapidly decreases as you become richer) or whether you use the "Kelly Criterion" for avoiding gambler's ruin, it turns out that even when the expected value of a lottery ticket is positive, the expected utility of more than a small fraction of a lottery ticket is still negative. Unless you are already a millionaire or you join up with a large group of friends you still don't want to buy even one ticket.
I'm very surprised there is a vocal pro-lottery crowd on Metafilter.
There is a very vocal anti-blaming-victims crowd on Metafilter, even for a definition of blame which is expansive enough to include pointing out any self-inflicted damage a suffering person incurs. This doesn't mean that they're not aware that these choices lead to self-inflicted damage (you never see someone advocating that poor people buy more lottery tickets, do you?), it just means that they don't want to pile the damage of shame on top of the damage of poverty. Not pro-lottery exactly, just anti-anti-lottery-customer.

I could argue that this is still a counterproductive attitude, but it's definitely not "buying lottery tickets is a great idea!" level foolish.
posted by roystgnr at 12:19 AM on May 19, 2013 [19 favorites]


Are public schools only for the middle class?
posted by Brocktoon at 12:21 AM on May 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was in line at a convenience store about a month ago when a gentleman came in scrounging the cans for scratcher tickets that had been thrown away. He was collecting them because apparently you can use losing lottery tickets to defray your taxes on lottery winnings.

He may hold the title for the most efficient optimist ("I would have payed $249,999,974 in taxes but with hard work and diligence, I only ended up paying $249,999,949"). In fact, with figuring like that, I would have suspected him to do well in High Finance.
posted by sourwookie at 12:22 AM on May 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


sourwookie: Of course, one could just sell them to a lottery winner.
posted by jaduncan at 12:25 AM on May 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hmm... I sound a little holier-than-thou above. Full disclosure: in high school I pulled a game piece off of a soda, threw it away because I knew the odds of it being a winning piece were negligible, then discovered a week later that it had been worth $25,000.

Oops.

So if your reaction to my previous comment was something like "who is he to lecture me about games of chance?", rest assured that the universe agrees with you.
posted by roystgnr at 12:25 AM on May 19, 2013


The notion that the value of a fantasy is directly proportional to the probability of the fantasy coming true is just hilariously stupid. It also makes me wonder about just how sadly quotidian this guy's sex fantasies are.
posted by yoink at 12:28 AM on May 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


in high school I pulled a game piece off of a soda, threw it away because I knew the odds of it being a winning piece were negligible, then discovered a week later that it had been worth $25,000.

How did you discover this?
posted by sourwookie at 12:30 AM on May 19, 2013


How did you discover this?
It was a "get all the pieces in a certain group and win the prize for that group" game, like the McDonalds Monopoly contest, if you recall those. In the game I won/lost, the goal was to complete phrases, and the prize for "As if" (did I mention this was the late 90s?) was an-SUV-or-$25K. I got one word (I forget which), tossed it, then got the other word about a week later. The way those games are designed is to make one of the pieces in each group the "rare" piece and the others common. IIRC I checked aficionados' pages on the internet to discover that the second piece I got was the common one, and the first piece (that I'd already thrown away) was the rare one.
posted by roystgnr at 1:01 AM on May 19, 2013


But... you can anticipate all you want for free.

Please tell me you don't extend this philosophy to your dating life because that would be sad.

--GuyZero

Is that our choice? Fantasy or date? Does that mean people who read fiction books are wasting their brains and avoiding life and not going on dates? Or is this a false dichotomy?
posted by eye of newt at 1:06 AM on May 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


God forbid I should occupy my valuable brain with a fantasy. Those minutes could have been spent trying to think up ways I could work harder.
posted by Segundus at 1:14 AM on May 19, 2013 [10 favorites]


Marge: You know there's only a 1 in 10 million chance of winning?

Homer: Make that FIFTY in 10 million!
posted by colie at 2:04 AM on May 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think in many or even the majority of cases, winning the lottery ruins the winner's life

I believe this is confirmation bias. Stories get written about winners who have horrible things happen, but the number of such stories is very small compared to the total number of big money winners.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 2:07 AM on May 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


A Google Scholar search finds research on this question. I tried lottery winners survey.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 2:18 AM on May 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


People who call it a stupidity tax are being glib, complacent and contemptuous. Poor people who play know pretty well what their chances of winning are, they also know pretty well what their other options are. It is a desperation tax.
posted by epo at 2:52 AM on May 19, 2013 [6 favorites]


Some lottery advocates . . . have tried to defend lottery-ticket buying as a rational purchase of fantasy—paying a dollar for a day's worth of pleasant anticipation, imagining yourself as a millionaire.

Here it is, not even 6 AM my time and I've already seen my hugely ludicrous contradiction for the day.

A fantasy of being a millionaire! My word, to think of it! To escape the terrible drudgery society has deemed my lot to put up with in exchange for food, shelter and basic health care! What a whimsical fantastic idea, to live without the horrendous worry that is the lot of my social class! Of course civilization would collapse if everyone could experience such rapturous pleasure, but what if a purely random incredibly slim chance were to single me out! Of course even then it's bit a tiny fraction of the obscene wealth of the righteous overmen who rule us, but let's keep this in the realm of even imaginable possibility!

Well, ya can't win if ya don't play. Or so my Dad says.

"The only way to win is not to play," or so sez WOPR.

The self policing of one's head to make sure you're not occupying your head with zero chance fantasies is exhausting.

Oh what must your life be like, to be exhaused by the effort of not buying into the infinite flow of obviously stupid hopes the human imagination presents in endless succession! "Maybe today a radioactive spider bite will give me super powers -- no, there's no chance of that. Maybe my schlong will grow to become a godlike force about the land-- but wait, seems unlikely. Maybe this will this be the day my house turns to gingerbread....?"

There's something really... privileged about the disdain in the second link. If only all the poor people who can't afford to blow a couple bucks a week on the lottery would smarten up and fantasize about getting a promotion or taking their startup to IPO instead?

Here we get to the core of the thing that's fueled my quiet rage at the lottery, the thing that took me from merely seeing it as a harmless thing that funded important programs to a force for evil.

A couple of years ago there was a convinence store nearby that a friend worked the overnight shift at, and sometimes to help him get through the long quiet hours I would drop by and talk with him awhile. That's when I noticed the sign.

It was a window ad for the Georgia Lottery. It hosted a picture of a middle-aged black woman and bore the caption TODAY COULD BE THE DAY. In a powerfully unexpected bit of truth in advertising, her expression looked a lot like a wince. I found myself imagining her speaking the words, defending her lottery habit to me, and I found the argument repulsive.

The reason it is the poor who mostly plays the lottery isn't because it is fun, no matter what anyone says or even believes for that matter. What kind of fun is that, to scratch off a film and see if one's won money? Woo, what a thrill. At least in Vegas you get a buffet.

If you're going to pointlessly fantasize about coming into money one easily can do it for free, either just by using one's brain or by watching one of the wide assortment of aspirational television programs the airwaves have been cursed with. You don't have to buy into it to dream; in fact, by making efforts like it could happen, you're leaning into that unrealistic hope, and that's not healthy.

Playing the lottery can only be for fun if you don't need the money; if you do need it, and many people who play it do, it is more an act of desperation. A way of saying to one's self: "Okay, those dreams I had when I was 12 about doing something substantive with my life are looking more like they're not going to happen with every passing day. Those teachers who told me that, with hard work, I could break out and make something of myself seem to have been lying; all that effort ended up making my employers richer while I still earned minimum wage. But here's one thing that could still get me out of it! I have to be is insanely, unreasonably lucky, but it's something. If it's not, then what hope do I have?"

There are a lot worse things to spend money on. Nobody has ever died of lottery cancer.

A much surer bet than the lottery: the proposition that there have been people who have ruined their lives by unwisely spending huge piles of money on lottery tickets.

At least with this type of gambling, your money is more likely to be spent on something that benefits your community.

But if you just raised taxes instead, that money would come from a much wider array of the population, and assuming a progressive tax will probably come more from those who can best spare the cash.
posted by JHarris at 3:31 AM on May 19, 2013 [20 favorites]


I spent several years working in a newsagents around the time the UK national lottery first launched. IIRC we would sell around 3000 tickets on a regular Saturday. I saw the range of players, from those who would just purchase a single ticket when the jackpot had rolled-over to those would would spend £20+ a week on a regular draw. The UK national lottery was originally one draw per week, it is now myriad of games and odds.

The newsagents was coupled with a Post Office, and an observation was people collecting their benefits / pension from the PO then immediately spending 20% of it on lottery tickets. There were winners, the majority of course being low prizes of £10. The one big winner we had was 5 out of 6 + bonus ball, something like £100,000 at the time. The player had no idea if they had won anything until we checked the ticket.

Anyway the one thing that sticks in my mind, and i wasn't working the shift at the time, was a woman who came in to cash a £10 win. She remarked that she felt it was her lucky week, bad luck i guess because she was immediately knocked over and killed by a car outside the newsagents. This lead to a puffin crossing being added to the road outside the newagents, something that had been a long time coming.

The interesting thing is that i still go home now and then, driving up that busy main road where the woman was killed some 15 or so years ago and where the puffin crossing is still in place. But i often see people cross the road a few meters above or below the crossing. People will park up next to the crossing and then cross the road without using it, buy a lottery ticket from the newsagent then cross the road again without using the crossing to get back to their car.

The likelihood of being hit by a car whilst crossing a road is significantly higher than winning the lottery.
posted by lawrencium at 4:01 AM on May 19, 2013 [9 favorites]


Make no mistake - people are going to gamble; what they gamble on varies from person to person, and every person who does it has their reasons and justifications. I would rather that gambling wasn't something a person living in poverty felt driven to do, but human nature isn't going to change.

My take is you leave the lottery as it is, ('cause it'll exist whether you sanction it or not) and focus on killing poverty.
posted by Mooski at 4:08 AM on May 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


After years of being disdainful I bought one during one of the huge jackpots, the day dreams were just incredible. Totally worth it, intense... once. The occasional ticket since then just never matched up, one imagined corporate jet and caviar is about the same as last weeks imagined corporate jet and champagne.

So do buy one and only one lottery ticket in your life.
posted by sammyo at 4:13 AM on May 19, 2013


I am always reminded of a guy that my mother was running around with many years ago. She told us in solemn terms that he had a SYSTEM! and he knew how to BEAT THE LOTTERY!, bringing home some of his thick notebooks and binders in which he'd tracked years' worth of winning Daily Number and Big 4 tickets, which numbers had won when and how often, etc.

We had to point out that if this guy had a working SYSTEM! and could BEAT THE LOTTERY!, why was he still working at a local supermarket slapping price tags on packs of paper towels?
posted by delfin at 4:42 AM on May 19, 2013


Lotteries do cause huge ethical problems for certain religious non-profits. Many protestant/anabaptist churches eschew games of chance because they are targeted at people who can ill afford to play. When the UK National Lottery Fund pretty much replaced all the diverse government funds that charities could tap into, these groups were faced with a dilemma: make a stance and lose funding, or compromise and keep working.

Using the lottery grants search, you can see where the money has gone.
posted by scruss at 4:51 AM on May 19, 2013


If the poor vote against their self-interests because they imagine they are temporarily embarrassed millionaires, does the lottery encourage this way of seeing the world?
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:03 AM on May 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


The saddest stories about lottery winners always reference the incredibly heart-breaking letters they receive from desperate people in extremely dire straits. What kind of person would you have to become to deal with those that aren't scams?
posted by halfbuckaroo at 5:16 AM on May 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I am fully prepared to go from broke to wealthy overnight, I assure you. I will handle it with maturity, reason, and decorum. I will even be generous to appropriate family members and strangers.

Actually, I've never played the lottery in my life although I once had to sell lottery tickets at a job and that was a pretty sad experience. There are definitely addicts who drop money on lottery tix they can't afford. But I do the same with my different vices, so whatever.

My mom, who is an ascetic super devout Christian nurse who won't even use air conditioning in summer because it is decadent, wasteful, and unnecessary, still buys one ticket a week. She has more money than she will ever need but works full time in her mid 70s for love of caring for the sick and dying. She's a true "what would Jesus do?" person -- she thinks about that consciously all the time. She has a policy of never refusing any beggar, which makes days spent walking around the city interesting. She adopts every stray cat she finds until she finds it a home. She stops at bloody accidents to help. (Not much rubbed off on me, I'm a regular selfish jerk.)


I often ask her what she'd do if she won millions. Answer: give it all to her church and the poor.

All of it. She plays for Jesus.

So there are other motivations than personal gain out there, attached to the same pleasurable fantasy structure.
posted by spitbull at 5:47 AM on May 19, 2013 [8 favorites]


I am one of the few who has come out ahead on the lottery. I managed this through the generosity of the Massachusetts Lottery Commission, which, early in its life, gave out free scratch tickets through the mail. Some of the ones it sent me won a few bucks. I never bought a ticket, and so long as I don't, I will always be ahead of The Game.

Before the state lotteries, there was the numbers pool, which you could play at many workplaces. It was illegal. As I recall, the winning number was somehow generated by horse-race results, so you could check the newspaper to see if your number won. The odds were much, much better than the government versions, but there weren't any million-dollar payouts. When the government lotteries appeared, they drove the underworld ones out of existence. For people who must have a daily gambling fix, there's the government coercion; the gambling addict can no longer play the Mob's cheap, fairly-good-odds game; now he has to play the government's cheap, really-bad-odds game. Instead of a fairly-realistic hope that he can win a few hundred dollars, (almost every week, someone I knew or knew of managed that), He now has much-less-realistic hopes of the same thing. I suspect the end of the illegal numbers games also contributed to the decline of newspapers, but who knows?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:49 AM on May 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Have you ever seen the slot junkies sitting at the one armed bandits at 4 a.m.? These are the happiest people on earth.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 6:02 AM on May 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't buy lottery tickets. But I do get to savor the fantasies. My fantasy is that I bought a ticket and it turned out to be the winning ticket.
posted by notreally at 6:10 AM on May 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


Playing the lottery can only be for fun if you don't need the money; if you do need it, and many people who play it do, it is more an act of desperation. A way of saying to one's self: "Okay, those dreams I had when I was 12 about doing something substantive with my life are looking more like they're not going to happen with every passing day. Those teachers who told me that, with hard work, I could break out and make something of myself seem to have been lying; all that effort ended up making my employers richer while I still earned minimum wage. But here's one thing that could still get me out of it! I have to be is insanely, unreasonably lucky, but it's something. If it's not, then what hope do I have?"

I know a lot of people who "don't need money" in the sense of getting by, but who are constantly gambling something nevertheless. Lots of professional people betting way too aggressively on the stock market, too late in life to make it up if they lose it. They can pay their bills but want to be independently wealthy or leave a large estate. Then there seem to be an incredible number of people see their main chance at fulfillment (and often money too) as getting their unpublished manuscript published and have spent loads of money attending writing conferences and paying for products. A lot of people justify these activities as something they enjoy in the moment and some of them no doubt do; others are desperate or just have a feeling of "is that all there is"?

Personally I feel like I'm playing the lottery every day already, with retirement and health care costs here in the US. It's a game I don't feel like I've chosen and it makes me angry. I am putting an awful lot of time and worry into just creating an adequate safety net. For me, there is a temptation to gamble or just waste money in some other way as a way of saying "fuck all that."
posted by BibiRose at 6:28 AM on May 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


The saddest stories about lottery winners always reference the incredibly heart-breaking letters they receive from desperate people in extremely dire straits. What kind of person would you have to become to deal with those that aren't scams?

A person with a PA, which I could now afford to be.
posted by biffa at 6:40 AM on May 19, 2013


The only statistically significant thing you can do in a lottery is to buy a single ticket...
posted by jim in austin at 6:43 AM on May 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


The self policing of one's head to make sure you're not occupying your head with zero chance fantasies is exhausting

Agreed. And also, isn't part of being human having flights of fancy? Also, how is it more of a waste of 'emotional energy' than watching a film or stupid television. How does watching "Friends" enrich your life?

Why am I getting so annoyed by this? Now THAT is a waste of emotional energy.
posted by bquarters at 6:51 AM on May 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Wow, first time I've spent +30 minutes drafting a comment only to realize I'm probably too irritated to be contributory right now. This topic makes me so sad, and so reminds me of the "why are people buying cake and ice cream with their SNAP benefits" threads.

Anyone who is spending their grocery budget on a fistful of lottery tickets is probably addicted to gambling, rather than just being "too stupid to know the odds."

Why am I getting so annoyed by this? Now THAT is a waste of emotional energy.

Ah. Precisely this.
posted by polly_dactyl at 6:54 AM on May 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'd have less disdain for the lottery and its "players" if my neighborhood wasn't constantly littered with discarded scratch-off tickets.
posted by Legomancer at 6:57 AM on May 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


I won about $150 in the MA State lottery when I was 18. 25+ years later I'm pretty sure I'm still profitable on my lottery career. I do buy one sometimes when it gets big enough to be all over the news and I happen to think about while I'm at the gas station. I bought one yesterday. I won $4 on my $2 Powerball investment. 100% ROI!!! Woo Hoo!!

However, I think the argument that the day dream is free is wrong. It's not. For the day dream to have any redeeming mental value I think the dreamer has to have something invested that could make the dream happen, even if the investment is only $2.
posted by COD at 7:03 AM on May 19, 2013


JHarris: "Okay, those dreams I had when I was 12 about doing something substantive with my life are looking more like they're not going to happen with every passing day. Those teachers who told me that, with hard work, I could break out and make something of myself seem to have been lying..."

There are millions of kids in this country who by age 12--by age 6 even--have no hope of doing something substantive with their lives. They certainly don't have teachers who tell them that with hard work they can break out and make something of themselves.

At least in Vegas you get a buffet.

Because everyone can afford the airfare, car rental, and time off from work to go to Vegas.
posted by headnsouth at 7:39 AM on May 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


A much surer bet than the lottery: the proposition that there have been people who have ruined their lives by unwisely spending huge piles of money on lottery tickets.

Sure, but that's not a meaningful argument against playing the lottery in general. There are people who have ruined their lives by unwisely spending huge piles of money on pretty much anything you care to name. There are people who get obsessed with collecting dolls and blow all their money on their passion or people who buy cars that are far more expensive than they can afford or people who get addicted to alcohol and blow all their money on that. None of which is a reason to think that doll collecting or buying a car or having the occasional drink is inherently irrational or counterproductive.
posted by yoink at 7:44 AM on May 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Players clog the line at 7-11 while carefully choosing a set of shiny brightly colored "tickets to fantasy" they will purchase. At least they provide a highly emotionally-charged show.
posted by telstar at 7:49 AM on May 19, 2013


Forget abuse for a moment: how is the lottery a use of state power in the first place? It isn't compulsory.

because the state reserves this type of business for it's self. i think there would be many more lottery games if any business could legally start one.

---

i once heard of a money making scheme where, when a new scratch ticket lottery game comes out, you buy as many first rolls of tickets as possible. the rational is that the first roll will have many more winning tickets than other rolls to stir up interest in the new game.
posted by cupcake1337 at 8:42 AM on May 19, 2013


I only buy lottery tickets when it hits a certain threshold, usually when the cost of a ticket times the odds of winning are lower than the annuity prize - that makes sure it's not a habit, just a thing that I do once in a while. There was a period when I was getting tickets just about weekly but all the losing got discouraging. I also buy in when there are pools at work.

Personally I figure there are going to be numbers games, and it's better overall if the state runs them and gives some of the proceeds to social welfare programs. It's all kept more or less clean and fair, and it's not giving organized crime another foothold.

Humans have always gambled, at least as long as there's been money and probably before that. It's built into our makeup in some way, I think. The lottery's a way to make it safe and well-regulated, with really big prizes. Calling it a "stupidity tax" is misunderstanding that.
posted by graymouser at 8:51 AM on May 19, 2013


They were talking about the Lottery. Winston looked back when he had gone thirty metres. They were still arguing, with vivid, passionate faces. The Lottery, with its weekly pay-out of enormous prizes, was the one public event to which the proles paid serious attention. It was probable that there were some millions of proles for whom the Lottery was the principal if not the only reason for remaining alive. It was their delight, their folly, their anodyne, their intellectual stimulant. Where the Lottery was concerned, even people who could barely read and write seemed capable of intricate calculations and staggering feats of memory. There was a whole tribe of men who made a living simply by selling systems, forecasts, and lucky amulets. Winston had nothing to do with the running of the Lottery, which was managed by the Ministry of Plenty, but he was aware (indeed everyone in the party was aware) that the prizes were largely imaginary. Only small sums were actually paid out, the winners of the big prizes being non-existent persons. In the absence of any real inter-communication between one part of Oceania and another, this was not difficult to arrange.

George Orwell - 1984
posted by Cookiebastard at 8:56 AM on May 19, 2013 [14 favorites]


Credit Unions in Michigan have tried starting a different kind of lottery. They created savings accounts that yield 0% interest, but instead enter the depositor into a lottery for the chance of winning $10,000. Even if you don't win, you still have all the money you deposited in the first place.
posted by the jam at 8:57 AM on May 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


The Powerball and many other lotteries are somewhat straightforward. Buy a ticket or 10, and see if you win anything. The scratch-off tickets start out with a set of odds, but if the big prizes are won early, the remaining tickets, still in stores, have even worse odds. But they promise instant gratification, and are popular. I'm not in favor of state-run lotteries; in theory, people should be able to decide how to spend their money, in reality, lotteries get a disproportionate amount of revenue from people who can't afford them.
posted by theora55 at 9:04 AM on May 19, 2013


>> Well, ya can't win if ya don't play.
> We are not machines

That's the spirit!
posted by Sutekh at 9:11 AM on May 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Meaningful lottery reform requires that for prizes over $50 million, the $50M goes to one person, the rest is given away $1M at a time, numbers picked until it's all won. $600M prize? 551 new millionaires.
posted by Twang at 9:12 AM on May 19, 2013 [6 favorites]


I figure there are going to be numbers games, and it's better overall if the state runs them and gives some of the proceeds to social welfare programs. It's all kept more or less clean and fair, and it's not giving organized crime another foothold. Humans have always gambled... The lottery's a way to make it safe and well-regulated, with really big prizes. - graymouser

That is a really interesting thought; I had never looked at it that way.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:13 AM on May 19, 2013


I'm a member of a group of friends with a long-standing private message board and every time the lottery gets to a certain point we have a thread where we all fantasize about how we would spend our winnings. I'm not sure any of us actually buy tickets, though - it's just fun to imagine, right? Until this post I don't think I understood that people out there buying tickets actually expect that they might win. That they have any kind of hope about it is unbearably depressing. I don't know why I never got before that people really do see it as a potential ticket to freedom.
posted by something something at 9:20 AM on May 19, 2013


> At least then our ""stupidity tax"" would benefit our sorely underfunded schools instead of neighboring states' schools

If it makes you feel better, it probably wouldn't help your schools anyway.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:21 AM on May 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


The only statistically significant thing you can do in a lottery is to buy a single ticket...

Exactly. Buying a ticket improves your odds greatly- from nothing to something.

However, in some of the "Lotto" type games where the odds and the jackpot are parimutuel, it can often pay to buy two tickets with the same number. You get two slices of whatever jackpot there is. And the odds of a win in those games are often much better. 5 numbers in Megamillions will get you $25, but three numbers in a 1-2-3 Lotto kind of game will get you a couple thousand.

And yeah, the "stupidity tax" people are the worst. Mind your own business on how people spend their money. Everyone is allowed to be short sighted if they want.
posted by gjc at 9:44 AM on May 19, 2013


And the response to that, something something, is always "well, somebody is going to win," or "somebody has to win," and it "might be me."

It is not an act of statistical reasoning, exactly. It is knowingly taking a very remote probability as what it is, namely, still a possibility.

I think a lot of people are objecting to calling that calculation "stupid" or innumerate. Many people accept much more unlikely possibilities as much higher probabilities (most especially those who believe in metaphysical agency, but I won't start that discussion here because my comment will most likely be deleted. But I think the analogy is quite valid, and is in fact why I told the story of my devout mother's playing for Jesus above, although she doesn't actually believe in the sort of personally intervening God who would reward her selfless motivations by letting her win the lottery just once, in order to give it all to the poor, she being a highly educated believer). In other words, people who are opposed to gambling but believe in unseen beings who intentionally hold us accountable for our behaviors in an afterlife (a location on the Venn Diagram of life that is quite populous) need to do some introspection on the question of hypocrisy.

Actually, when you think about it, buying a lottery ticket is a good deal more rational, as someone does in fact actually provably win in the end.
posted by spitbull at 9:44 AM on May 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Could there be a more clear example of the state abusing its power to siphon money out of the economically disadvantaged?
Pennsylvania has state-owned liquor stores, and while lots of people rail against the inconvenience and inefficiency of the state store system, I never hear it spoken of in the same moralistic terms I hear people condemn the lottery: and a state liquor seller is actually dispensing a well-documented poison and public health hazard with enormous social costs associated with it.
I don't understand the moral equivalency argument. If I sell you beer, at the end of the day you still get to drink beer. Sure, beer isn't healthy, but that's not exactly a secret. You get what you signed up for.

But if I sell you a piece of paper that gives you a 0.000001% chance of winning a bajillion dollars, which actually offers negative returns, I'm not actually selling you anything, I am taking your money and saying, "Ha! Good luck, idiot." In order to get you to buy this thing, I have to dress it up with fancy marketing and advertisements to distract from the fact that it is a terrible way to spend your money, if your goal is to have more money. You need to know basic statistics and have a financial education in order to understand that you're being conned. Therein lies the smoke and mirrors.

Now, what if, in addition to selling you this negative ROI investment opportunity, which sale depends on your lack of financial education, I am also the party responsible for your education? Am I not now profiting off of my own failure to educate you?
posted by deathpanels at 9:46 AM on May 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


You're selling an experience. In the end it's the same as selling a beer, without the calories.
posted by spitbull at 9:47 AM on May 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


You're selling an experience. In the end it's the same as selling a beer, without the calories.
Lottery tickets are not an experience. NBA tickets are an experience.
posted by deathpanels at 9:50 AM on May 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's a cheap thrill
posted by Annika Cicada at 9:53 AM on May 19, 2013


Shouldn't these members of the proletariat be spending their money and time planning the inevitable socialist revolution?
posted by happyroach at 10:07 AM on May 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


In the end it's the same as selling a beer, without the calories.

There is at least one major difference.

Beer drinkers select their beer, go to the counter, and pay. Very efficient. They are in a hurry to get home and drink beer.

Lottery players aimlessly cluster around the register: "Give me 4 number 3s. No wait, make that 3 number 4s...." Then they eventually pay. Surprise! They are not done. They have orders from other people, maybe, or they think it's lucky to spread all their ticket buying over 3 or 4 sub-transactions? I don't know.
posted by thelonius at 10:07 AM on May 19, 2013


Make no mistake - people are going to gamble; what they gamble on varies from person to person, and every person who does it has their reasons and justifications. I would rather that gambling wasn't something a person living in poverty felt driven to do, but human nature isn't going to change.

Poppycock! "Human nature" is a much more malleable thing than you suspect; you don't see Maori tribesmen buying scratch tickets. If there was no lottery then they wouldn't play. And almost by definition anything else they chose to gamble on would be more likely to pay off than the lottery, and might have other effects besides.

Then there seem to be an incredible number of people see their main chance at fulfillment (and often money too) as getting their unpublished manuscript published and have spent loads of money attending writing conferences and paying for products. A lot of people justify these activities as something they enjoy in the moment and some of them no doubt do;

That at least has the angle of personal development; you can improve a skill that is at least nominally useful, and have contributed something substantive to the world, even if the thing you can put on your tombstone amounts to WROTE A TERRIBLE UNPUBLISHED ROMANCE NOVEL WITH VAMPIRES AND ELVES. Still an improvement over lottery tickets.

others are desperate or just have a feeling of "is that all there is"?

This is a deeper problem, and it gets to the real reason the lottery exists.

I don't mean "real reason" in the sense that people actually consciously invented it for this purpose. But often institutions persist for reasons that are kind of subconsciously zeitgeisty. Markets, especially, are like that; why did you buy that bag of candy, is it because you like the taste or are you reliving a moment of joy from your childhood where your mother bought you something? The result is the same, the makers are rewarded in either case, and so it's a mistake to say that candy sales surge just because people like chocolate.

So it is with the lottery, except the unspoken impulse it satisfies is doing something positive with your life. Which it isn't, but it has that kind of appearance, to some. It is something that the people who run lotteries for public purposes would be repulsed to realize -- but they don't realize it, and so long as they don't, lotteries actually release some pressures in society, mostly involving the poor's dissatisfaction with their lot in life. It sort of works if you don't look hard at it; but once you do look at it, you come to recognize it as just a way to profit off of desperation, desperation that wouldn't be nearly as bad if our society did more to help the poor than giving them lottery tickets to buy. And by reliving that pressure in an artificial way, it makes it harder to remedy.

There are millions of kids in this country who by age 12--by age 6 even--have no hope of doing something substantive with their lives.

Really? What kind of kid dreams of growing up to become Worker Drone 7914862?

>At least in Vegas you get a buffet.
Because everyone can afford the airfare, car rental, and time off from work to go to Vegas.


sigh Never assume people won't take a joking example seriously.

Sure, but that's not a meaningful argument against playing the lottery in general. There are people who have ruined their lives by unwisely spending huge piles of money on pretty much anything you care to name.

It's meaningful because nearly anything else will at least have a contributory impact on something. Playing the lottery is trading money for the chance of winning more, and nothing else. It is entirely financial, which makes it masturbatory.

There are people who get obsessed with collecting dolls and blow all their money on their passion or people who buy cars that are far more expensive than they can afford or people who get addicted to alcohol and blow all their money on that. None of which is a reason to think that doll collecting or buying a car or having the occasional drink is inherently irrational or counterproductive.

But practically speaking, all those things are much MUCH less likely to happen. While unwisely playing the lottery is functionally one of those little traps our culture sprinkles around to catch and punish those folk it thinks are susceptible to moral hazard, like alcohol, tobacco, and reality television*. Traps that subconsciously people are okay with, because har har it's their fault if they fall for it.

* Note on "reality television": non-zero humor value. Not entirely serious.

Humans have always gambled... The lottery's a way to make it safe and well-regulated, with really big prizes.

In fact they have not always gambled, if only because babies aren't born with a pair of dice in their hand. To speak more usefully, gambling has a kind of low-energy niche that satisfies a set of urges that we think of as "fun." But those urges can find other outlets than scratch tickets, and many of those at least play some slight role in the world other than masturbatory exchanges of probability. I personally am really ace at Pac-Man Championship Edition, very low on the ladder of personal accomplishments, but at least it sounds slightly better than "I buy a lot of scratch tickets."

Finally (I hope): Cookiebastard wins for his quote directly from Nineteen-Eighty-Fucking-Four. But I despair that it takes a quote from Orwell to get people to rally against a harmful thing.
posted by JHarris at 10:09 AM on May 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


Lottery tickets are not an experience. NBA tickets are an experience.

This is entirely subjective. I am not in any way interested in the "experience" that NBA tickets would give me. That is not an experience I want. Buying a lottery ticket, as many comments in this thread would attest, is an experience. I personally buy maybe a ticket a year, but I can still see why it's an experience for others. It's a flight of imagination, a means to social bonding, even a professional networking opportunity.

Like NBA tickets for me, buying a lottery ticket might not be an experience you are at all interested in, but it is an experience nonetheless.
posted by headnsouth at 10:12 AM on May 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


The fact that lottery tickets aren't an experience for you, deathpanels, doesn't mean they aren't for someone else. At $1-$5 a pop, if you're the kind of dreamer/hoper/fool that can take a lottery ticket as the jumping-off point for fantasy that wouldn't come otherwise--that's an experience. Interacting with the clerk, playing numbers that are meaningful to you, the moment before you know whether you won or lost--that's an experience. If you're having a godawful week and you need just one moment of what-if, one tiny leap of faith, to make things seem better and remind yourself there's something more--that's an experience.

My sister and I used to get the occasional scratch-off ticket from our grandparents, who bought them only to keep up occupied in the grocery store while they checked out. Scrabbling for a nickel to scrape off the grey and reveal the numbers is one of my earliest, fondest memories. I don't think we even understood that we could win money, just that we could win.

The only lottery ticket I've played since I came of age was earlier this year, when my friend bought me one with some change. I scratched off all the numbers gleefully only to realize that you were only supposed to scratch off three. I have no interest in buying them for myself, especially as I don't seem to follow instructions well, but I don't begrudge people who want a cheap breath of hope in a difficult world.
posted by c'mon sea legs at 10:12 AM on May 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Lottery tickets are not an experience. NBA tickets are an experience.
This is entirely subjective.


Technically it is subjective, yes, but practically, not really. Technically I can argue with a brick wall; it's really easy to win because it doesn't do much in defense, but it's not much of an argument. And I have never seen a experiential defense of lottery tickets that can't be satisfied by saving one's money, closing one's eyes, and taking a trolly ride to King Friday's Kingdom of Make-Believe.
posted by JHarris at 10:17 AM on May 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm baffled by Metafilter's attitude here. I've lived in a poor neighborhoods, and you see numerous poor people coming in and blowing money, a lot of money that they don't have to spare, on those scratch-offs.

It is a tax on the poor and desperate and those scratch-offs are like crack - you see people, often women, just standing there and getting ticket after ticket.

People do real harm to their lives with those tickets. The bodega I used to go to was run by some decent people - people would come in and they'd say, "No, Mrs. X, your son told us you weren't allowed to buy tickets any more," and they'd leave - and then the counterman would say, "She's just going down the street," (to which I'd say, "You're doing the right thing, you did all you could, I'm proud of you.")

(Though strangely twice people told me of asking for a pack and being actually given heroin - with works! - from that same bodega - heroin they gave back and got an apology over. Interesting! I was never sure if it was true or not...)


My dad used to buy a couple of lottery tickets a week - he could afford it. Most of the people I've seen buying lottery tickets couldn't afford it. I know for a fact that people - and their children - go hungry over the purchase of lottery tickets.

The scratch-offs are particularly addictive; in the ones I was familiar with, the payoff matrix is set so that the chances of winning a free ticket are quite high, the chance of winning a small amount of money is enough that if you spend $100 you're almost certain to do so - but you'll lose most of your money most of the time.

So you get occasional payoffs - we are programmed genetically to be strongly rewarded by such a payoff matrix.

> As I recall, the winning number was somehow generated by horse-race results, so you could check the newspaper to see if your number won.

In New York City, at least, it was the last three digits of the Dow Jones - impossible to fake. I was tickled pink when I found out about that...!

I know that the numbers persisted quite a long time after the scratch-offs - because the payoffs were better. Doesn't it seem wrong to you that the Mafia offers better results than the "legal" lotteries?

There are three additional factors regarding US lotteries specifically.

First, there's a double-tap - for each $1 you spend, some $0.60 is taken off the top because they only pay off a fraction of the money - AND if you win you get taxed at the highest possible rate by the government. (In Canada, where my father was buying tickets, the lottery is tax-free - you win $5 million, you can paper your walls with a million $5 notes...)

Second, the payoff numbers are deeply misleading - I would actually say criminally misleading - because you don't get that $300 million in one lump sum, but over 20 or 30 years. If you purchased an annuity for that value, it might cost you half the face value. (Old joke from that time in Canada: "Did you hear about the Newfie million-dollar lottery? It pays off a dollar a year for a million years!" Apologies to any Newfoundlanders, it's all in the spirit of fun.) You can take a lump sum - but you get some fraction of the "nominal" payoff.

This is just wrong. If I offered to pay you $10K to do something, and then at the end I paid you $500 a year over 20 years, you'd sue me. Yes, it's in the fine print that lotteries do this BUT it's deeply misleading, particularly to people who do not understand amortization and compound interest.

Finally, the advertising is also deeply misleading. The commercials generally show you doing things that you could never ever afford, even if you won the top prizes. Just a fantasy, so it's OK? But you wouldn't be allowed to show, say, a new car flying - why should you be allowed to show people buying $200 million dollar yachts from a lottery that wins a maximum $1 million?

Premium bonds are quite a different idea - one I applaud. You get to keep the principal - you even get some interest - a small fraction of your interest payments go into paying that jackpot.

You get the same thrill that you get from regular lotteries, and you end up with some savings.

tl; dr: lotteries are indeed a tax on the desperate, and are pushed to the desperate with misleading advertising.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:22 AM on May 19, 2013 [15 favorites]


I'd like to hear a ballpark figure - what's the difference in probability for buying a winning lottery ticket and finding a winning ticket in the street? Bet it is not so huge.
No, it is huge. There are about 200 Powerball/Megamillions drawings a year. Let's define an "unspent lottery ticket" as a lottery ticket that was discarded or otherwise lost by the original purchaser before he or she got a chance to examine the results. And a "spent lottery ticket" as one that the purchaser checked the results on, then discarded or lost. It seems fair to assume that almost everyone who checked their ticket and found it to be a winner would cash it in, so let's ignore the spent tickets.

Let's say for the sake of argument that every five years, you stumble across one unspent lottery ticket in the street. I'm trying to err on the generous side; I've never come across an unspent lottery ticket, and I don't know anyone else who has, and talked about it. Probably most of those incredibly lucky people are pickpockets or purse-snatchers. Anyway, one ticket every five years means you have about a 1/1000 chance of finding an unspent lottery ticket per drawing. However, the odds of that one ticket being the winning drawing are the same as the odds of any random ticket being the winning drawing, about 1 in 175 million. You have to multiply that with the odds of you finding the ticket in the first place to calculate your odds of stumbling across the jackpot in the street: 1/175 billion per drawing. Not good odds at all.

To put it another way, over the course of a 100 year lifespan, assuming you play every Powerball and Megamillions drawing, you have a 1-in-8413 chance of winning the grand prize. Your chance of FINDING the prize over 100 years (using the aforementioned generous 1/1000 odds)? One in 8.4 million. Bleak.

On the other hand, those 20,800 tickets you bought over your life, with scant odds of ever winning, cost you at least $31,200 (Remember, Powerball costs $2). "Finding" a ticket is free, not counting the chances of your being caught with your paws in someone's back pocket, you damn thief.
posted by xigxag at 10:25 AM on May 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


Maybe some people like the pain of losing too.
posted by spitbull at 10:26 AM on May 19, 2013


I figure there are going to be numbers games, and it's better overall if the state runs them and gives some of the proceeds to social welfare programs.

It's economically equivalent and so not really a big deal, but I'd rather see the state permit lotteries and heavily regulate and tax them.

All else equal, I'd rather live in a state that permits some things that are, for lack of better terms at the top of my head, unhealthy or vices but regulates and taxes them, than live in a state that engages in active predation against its citizens.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:36 AM on May 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Gambling does seem to be a near universal aspect of human culture, actually, if I recall the ethnological arguments.

Gambling is applied science. It's really just "playing a game" except that the game settles or exchanges some real life material dispute or good. The development of play and "games" is certainly universal and begins in early childhood, and the introduction of stakes into play and games begins in early childhood as well, with the stakes rising over the course of a child's development. Sports are the same thing really, and the relationship between betting and sports is not a singular historical alignment in the west. Gambling teaches various forms of reasoning, but also skills that serve when reason fails, either because you lack the knowledge to reason or because the challenge is unreasonable -- including key emotional skills for leadership like optimism, determination, courage (which is often also foolhardiness) and the like. I'm sure evpsychs somewhere are working on an evolutionary theory for gambling, but it would seem to me to fall under the broader rubric of the case for play as central to human social and cultural development.

We moderns (and riches and industrials) live lives we think are so well risk-managed, and in some ways they are reducible to incredibly precise algorithmic calculations of calories consumed, dollars invested, interest earned, mammograms received, insurance purchased, etc. etc. And then along comes a hurricane or cancer or a robber or a dumb decision to beat the light and all our careful risk management is for nought and we are forced to respond in fight or flight mode.

I am of the belief that gambling satisfies strong instinctive *and* culturally widespread human desires, cultivates certain faculties that also serve to mediate conflict and respond to unknown threats and opportunities, and all the other things play does for us as humans who live in non-deterministic worlds where we must improvise novel responses to novel challenges using not just instinct but calculation, and fuse those two resources as best we can.

I don't gamble. But I do other crazy risky things for fun that anyone not invested in the reasons I do those things would call "stupid" or "addicted" or "delusional" or "irrational" behavior. The satisfactions of doing those things seem disproportionately ephemeral (and expensive) relative to the risks they entail (of death, in the case of several things I like doing) to some people.

I think we all do these things. You are gambling, in a more vernacular sense of that word, every time you rely on other human beings to observe the social contract with attentive goodwill. Let's say every time you drive your car. The risk you take relative to the benefit you gain is probably not something you consciously calculate every time you approach a red light. Your ability to function in that situation is probably honed by years of lower stakes improvisation in play settings.

I'm not really defending lotteries, but it is a fact that gambling has often been fundamentally tied to the exercise and transition of power and the settling of otherwise potentially violent conflicts and the training of people to do self-negating things like die in battle.

People who gamble aren't stupid a priori. Or we're all stupid in the same way.
posted by spitbull at 10:44 AM on May 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


The tendency for people to point at lottery winners as a reason to play is a demonstration of the dangers of anecdata in general.
posted by jaduncan at 10:48 AM on May 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


And just one more thought, which is that a modern American lottery is to "gambling" what a Taco Bell dinner is to "Mexican food." It's basically a pure simulacrum, stripped of almost all real risk (a ticket costs a buck or whatever, the poorest can "afford" it as a one-off expense, the buy in does not require you to risk that much), offering absurdly grandiose benefits that aren't as great as all that when you look closely, with really terrible odds of winning, making the sale of the fantasy of winning a much more overt part of the transaction -- I think it's present in all lottery advertising as a subtext.
posted by spitbull at 10:49 AM on May 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


jaduncan, "anecdata" are insufficient for scientific evidence or proof; but no one is trying to make a rational or scientific argument for playing the lottery in this thread, or among people know, among lottery buffs.

In what possible universe is buying a lotto ticket a peer-reviewed, juried, mathematically justified actuarial decision? Who even reads the odds (always printed somewhere) before buying a ticket? All you need is the possibility of a winner (who might possibly be you) to make a sufficiently rational decision to take a very minimal level of risk. In the aggregate, these decisions are bad for poor families and individuals in real terms, and economically foolish even for the comfortable. But no one calculates their entertainment decisions on a desire to serve the interests of the aggregate.

The two sides of this debate are talking right past each other. Playing lotto is not a scientific experiment.
posted by spitbull at 10:54 AM on May 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


My next door neighbor won $1,000,000 ($40,000/yr x 25 yrs).

I have never purchased a ticket.

One of my employees won and took home $50,000 after two days of an incredible run at Reno craps tables. After he took all that money, now they comp him to get him back.

I don't play dice either.

The money my two exemplars won came from someone else, and of course both are the exceptions to lots of losing.

I was very depressed when I saw an obviously poor woman buying 20 tickets. She had better use for that money, and her desperation was self-evident.

I would rather have people give me their money because they want to.
posted by Repack Rider at 10:55 AM on May 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think that the discussion about the ills of gambling and whether it's inevitable are totally relevant and are interesting, but I just want to repeat my position (which I think others share) that lotteries are chiefly problematic because they replace revenue from a progressive tax structure with revenue from a regressive tax structure.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:12 AM on May 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


I should explain my reason for not taking part. I have a hard time seeing the lottery or a craps table from the consumer point of view. I look at it from the business side. What some seem to think of as "gambling," looks more to me like "ore being mechanically processed to extract money." I have had occasion to spend many days in Las Vegas at trade shows, never risking even a dime in a slot machine the whole time.

The game of Blackjack is the only house game possible to beat by sheer skill, as card-counters have demonstrated, but card-counting is not permitted and is severely punished.
posted by Repack Rider at 11:12 AM on May 19, 2013


It's not a tax on stupidity. It's a tax on desperation.
posted by Cookiebastard at 11:34 AM on May 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


Oh, and let me add - I think gambling is a bit stupid but you won't be able to get rid of it, and I think banning it outright is stupid (see: drugs, prostitution, etc.)

The reason I think lotteries are a cheat are the pathetic payoffs.

If I play underground poker in New York City, there's a tiny fee to the house but overall the players keep almost every dollar that goes into the game - and if you win, you pay no taxes (and though I generally don't approve of skipping out on taxes, I know for sure that almost no one deducts their poker losings from their taxes, so it ends up being a complete wash for the taxpayer).

Almost all Vegas games pay off $0.90 or more on the dollar. The classic games like blackjack, roulette or craps pay off over $0.95 on the dollar.

As far as I know, there isn't a lottery in America that pays off as much as $0.50 on the dollar - and then you get taxed automatically on the winnings.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:45 AM on May 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


> but card-counting is not permitted and is severely punished.

Interestingly enough, since September of last year card counting is legal in the United States - in New Jersey, they aren't even allowed to bar card counters. (Source.)

I was surprised to find this out, but you learn something new every day.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:47 AM on May 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


(And the fact that the casinos freak out over card-counting shows how greedy and lazy they are. You can use more decks and reshuffle more often - if you used five decks and reshuffled after every hand your card counting becomes useless, because your edge becomes much less than 0.1%. It would be very easy to simply alternate five red decks and five blue decks, and throw the "alternate color" into the card shuffling machine after each hand...)
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:51 AM on May 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


> People who gamble aren't stupid a priori. Or we're all stupid in the same way.

Economically speaking, you are in fact "stupid" (with the exception of the tiny number of gamblers who play some skill-based game like poker significantly better than other people and can consistently make money at it.)

Gambling is risky. Logically, you should be demanding a greater payoff on risky investments than less risky ones - i.e. the risk/return tradeoff.

But gamblers accept a net negative payoff for assuming this risk. This is economically stupid.

I don't know if you've ever hung out with serious poker players or gamblers (or read Poker Nation) but even a short time with these people pretty well has to convince you that they are addicts with terrible lives.

My attitude to gambling is similar to that on cigarettes - if you can have a cigarette occasionally then more power to you (my wife has a cigarette every month or two, for example); but cigarettes are known to be extremely addictive and the potential health consequences extremely grave if you start smoking regularly. Please be careful with addictive habits, particularly destructive ones...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 12:11 PM on May 19, 2013


"Economically speaking" is the same as saying "in a world of pure rational calculation," the cardinal error of actual economists when they try to do social science.

I do not believe most people who play the lottery are in any sense gambling addicts. I'd have to see stats for that.

Professional poker players generally believe they have (or can develop) a skill level that gives them an edge; but those skills are social, not economic or mathematical.
posted by spitbull at 12:18 PM on May 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


But if you just raised taxes instead, that money would come from a much wider array of the population, and assuming a progressive tax will probably come more from those who can best spare the cash.

HAHAHAHA! Do you know how long it took us to raise taxes in California?
posted by Brocktoon at 12:39 PM on May 19, 2013


(I should say of course there is a level of mathematical skill involved in playing poker, but a lot of social skill too -- bluffing, reading other players, managing emotions -- that has nothing to do with economic calculation.)
posted by spitbull at 12:46 PM on May 19, 2013


you don't see Maori tribesmen buying scratch tickets

As far as I know, I've never met anyone with a Maori background, but that's just a bizarre notion. On the one hand, yes, lottery style gambling does require a society with a high degree of economic specialisation that is kind of contradicted by the word tribesmen, but on the other hand, problem gambling in New Zealand is disproportionately represented in the Maori population.

It sounds as if I'm splitting hairs here, but I really fail to believe there are societies with social freedoms that can successfully restrict gambling, and that there are societies which permit gambling that don't have a gambling competition that resembles the lottery. See the illegal numbers pools mentioned upthread or the legal football pools that used to run in the UK based on English football results.

I'm comfortable thinking that the urge for a lottery is not unnatural, but also comfortable that a balance has to be made as to how available lotteries are, given that I live in a country which is concerningly indifferent about problem gambling.
posted by ambrosen at 1:00 PM on May 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


BF Skinner's views on gambling
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 1:00 PM on May 19, 2013


BF Skinner

"Let me get this straight. Your position is that we shouldn't anthropomorphize people?"
posted by thelonius at 1:05 PM on May 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


you don't see Maori tribesmen buying scratch tickets

Traditional "gambling" games are incredibly widespread in the indigenous world. I don't know Maori culture well, but I would be very surprised if they didn't have a wide range of traditional games and sports that involved high value stakes, as I think most Pacific indigenous cultures do.

What we would now call "gambling" is also fundamentally important to social organization, ritual practice, and political mediation in many Native North American cultural traditions.
posted by spitbull at 1:14 PM on May 19, 2013


legospaceman: "Maybe the logical thing to do would be to just put it all into a worthwhile cause. But if an entire generation of your family didn't have to worry about any educational fees ever again it sure would be free up their minds and hearts for putting themselves into something worthwhile."

This is why wealthy people put the bulk of their money in a trust. If you have enough invested it can continue to pay out for a long time, enough to support you and your family for many generations, but even six figures can provide for college for an entire family. It also protects against impulsive decisions and legal issues. It sounds like rich people problems, but if you've never had money and you suddenly come into a very large windfall, after paying off debt it's the smartest thing you can do.
posted by krinklyfig at 1:27 PM on May 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Actually, one of the most iconic anthropological studies ever is about how one form of gambling is not really about money, but about masculinity, status and prestige, and cultural identity. It's a 40 year old essay, and a classic -- "Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight" by Clifford Geertz.
posted by third rail at 1:39 PM on May 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


At least with this type of gambling, your money is more likely to be spent on something that benefits your community.

I used to think that way, too, until I found out how corrupt my local lottery agency is.

I'm fascinated by the subReddit, IfIWonTheLottery. Apparently there are a lot of people who are really quite dedicated to thinking about how they will spend their lottery winnings.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 5:19 PM on May 19, 2013


Lottery = tax for people who are bad at math. My husband would grieve its loss, and I would celebrate its loss. Not sure where all those funds are actually going in the state of Texas, but they're damn sure NOT going to education.

I have an old friend of mine - he had a bar built in his house and he had 2 framed items on the wall at one end of the bar. One was a $2 bill - he was in line behind a woman in the mid '90's who appeared to be in pretty bad shape and apparently she had gone to dig out this $2 bill from where she kept her meaningful things in order to buy a lottery ticket because it was the only money she had left to her name. The other framed item was a pair of women's underwear and beneath them were the caption "Everybody has their price". Both of these tell similar stories from opposite ends - people will make bad choices if they believe it will help them financially in some way. As a matter of fact, people will make downright illogical choices when it comes to any form of gambling. "Never bet on another man's game..." That being said, we spent $9.00 last night on powerball tickets and we won $12.00. I told my husband he could keep the winnings.
posted by PuppyCat at 5:20 PM on May 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't mind that there's such a thing as a gambling. I mind that such a thing, in my state, goes to funding schools. Talk about a regressive tax. Gambling's always going to be around. I only mind that the income from it, the money lost by people with such hopeless dreams, is being used to fund schools. I mean, it sounds poetic? But let the people who spend more money on face cream than my dad ever spent on lottery tickets foot the bill.

The sorts of gambling that people do on their own without a state-subsidized lottery tend to be considerably milder--lower amounts of money spent, higher chances of winning, more of the money staying in the local community. No problem with those. This is exploitative. The marketing exists to create addiction, and around here it's happening at least in part to replace the money that someone three miles away in a nice house refuses to pay in property taxes so that your kid can learn to read. Only then it doesn't even get much from that, because the overhead is insane.

I don't think poor people spending money frivolously now and then is a problem, but systematically trying to get poor people to spend more money they don't have is. The problem isn't the people who buy one ticket a week. It's that the system isn't profitable without the people who go in and spend one whole afternoon scratching instant tickets chasing the goddamned dragon, and the lottery systems are doing their best to make sure those people never get help.
posted by Sequence at 5:56 PM on May 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Here in Tennessee, the lottery was illegal for a long time. When it finally became legal back around 2003, I had the misfortune to be working in a place that sold tickets and got to see firsthand our budding crop of lottery addicts.

The worst one was this middle aged guy who looked like Walter White if Walter White slept in a pigsty every night. He was covered in grime. He'd come in, buy $80 worth of scratch-off tickets, leave, and then come back two more times that night and do the same thing. One night, he had a meltdown when our ATM malfunctioned and he demanded cash from the register, and screamed when I told him that he had to contact US Bank.

-still buys a Powerball ticket every once in a while-
posted by ELF Radio at 5:58 PM on May 19, 2013


There's a moment when you scratch off each one (or read them, or whatever) where you don't know if you've won or lost... a moment just when you are about to discover that fact.

That's the moment gambling addicts chase. It's a sort of moment of control; a moment where your entire self is focused on that single, simple, brief moment. If they won all the time, they wouldn't gamble; they'd need something else. Probably drugs.

I just find that interesting.
posted by TravellingDen at 6:21 PM on May 19, 2013


I play scratch offs occasionally. I keep a spreadsheet of wins and losses and dates and all that. So far I'm $21 in the hole, though it looks like I've not played since July of 2012.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 6:31 PM on May 19, 2013


The author of the second blog post proposes a improved lottery that provides even more chances for daydreaming about wealth.
posted by miyabo at 7:39 PM on May 19, 2013


I only play a couple of tickets or so when the jackpot gets huge, but I always come out ahead when I play Powerball.

How?

I like to play with the properties of the thermal paper the tickets are printed on, at least in Washington State. Did you know that if you microwave a Powerball ticket for 30 seconds or so, until it turns black, that you can still see the Powerball logo if you tilt it? Next, I want to see if I can carve messages onto the tickets with a heated knife. (And yes, I know that I can get a roll for thermal paper cheaper than buying lottery tickets. But, there's something so cathartic about mangling an expired, non winning Powerball slip.)
posted by spinifex23 at 10:31 PM on May 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


So here's what I've wondered. On a recent powerball drawing the jackpot was immense, say $500 million and the reported odds were only something like 1 in 25 million, so why didn't a bank or an investor simply buy 25 million tickets and essentially guarantee a 2000% return?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 5:39 AM on May 20, 2013


As I understand it, that has happened. The problem is, 25 million chances at 1 in 25 million odds will only pay off about 2/3rds of the time, so to begin with you'd probably be buying more like 50 million chances if you really want to guarantee a win. The more you try and guarantee that win, the closer your margin gets, to the point where if, say, four other people happen also to win, cutting your prize to 20% of expected, you might still be out money.

Also just the fact that generally, people with that much money to risk didn't get it by taking those kinds of risks.
posted by rifflesby at 6:05 AM on May 20, 2013


Also just the fact that generally, people with that much money to risk didn't get it by taking those kinds of risks.

If the last 30 or so years have taught me anything, its that this statement is untrue.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 6:33 AM on May 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't play the lottery, doing so violates quite a few of the tenets I hold. I don't necessarily begrudge people that play with their extra side money but I do feel like other people than can't afford to play make use of it as a means of dealing with a crappy situation in life while only making things worse for themselves. Big surprise, poor people being shat upon under a guise of opportunity and glitter. Welcome to the future.

Anyway, I have a relative who gives everyone multiple scratchoff tickets in their stocking at Christmas. This.... this bothers me.

I'm already the type who wishes that Christmas was more of a time where people could gather as a family or group of friends and enjoy each others company and less of a "Send me your list of what you want" coupled with "Oh, you don't need to get me anything even though it would make you look like the biggest ass on the planet." So, not only am I already known to be against getting/giving gifts for it's own sake* but here comes Mr. Jolly Santa to give me lotto tickets in my stocking.

That leaves me holding a gift that, dare I say it, is the worst of the worst. Worse than an unsolicited "Read this hardback about *insert political view here*, It'll change your life" hardback. Worse than a "let me restrict your shopping habits based upon my view of you" gift card. Worse than a "give me a list so I can go shopping for you rather than you buy what you want for your damn self because you're an adult", with all the warranty/returns/receipt finagling that that involves. Far worse than just giving me a hug and breaking bread with me because those aren't enough it seems.

It's like saying, here let me set my money on fire in your name and for your likely non-benefit. With the added in unspoken fear of me actually winning because it'd be an asshat move to not split the money with the person who bought the ticket for you, right? ...right? Gawd.

So, forgive the rant and cue the Scrooge references but if this makes one person who considered giving lotto tickets as a gift reconsider then it's been worth it.

*Honestly, I'm not that bad. Give cool gifts to kids. If you see something that you think is right and thoughtful, snag it for me. Give it to me whenever, not just Christmas or the day I was expelled from the snuggly place I used to live. I'll do the same for you and your kids. But don't get me something because the calendar, the TV, and big business says you're supposed to.
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:00 AM on May 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Unified Theory: "Someone hoping to become a lottery winner is really no less rational than someone who is working to become the next Mark Zuckerberg. The odds are equally against them but for some reason we only ridicule the former."

Bad example. Lottery players are all equally unlucky.

Zuckerberg was born into a tremendous amount of privilege. He's as successful as he is because he recognized this fact, and took full advantage of it.

A lot of his success is indeed built on merit and luck, but let's remember to acknowledge that the guy already had the cards stacked massively in his favor by the time he made it to Harvard.
posted by schmod at 8:10 AM on May 20, 2013


My brother calls it a "stupidity tax".

I look at it like this; What else do you spend money on each week/month that potentially will give you money back. I am pretty sure that at no point in time is my landlord going to say to me "hey, you won free rent for the rest of your life" or the Utilities company saying "Congrats-Free electric forever!" The bank is never going to say "you've won the rest of your loan paid off" etc.
Sometimes I spend $1000.00 a day on bills and groceries and the likes....and never ever is one of those things going to repay me $. When I remember I buy a $1.00 ticket a week in the hopes of something, cause as is I waste more than $1.00 a hour on crap that will never repay me. Plus, doesn't all lotto money go to help children in schools? I know in MO there are constantly ads on TV and Radio that claim lotto money helps fund public schools. I don't believe that mind you. I see what's going on in my state. [Republicans] claim this and then immediately want to cut state funding to public schools on the grounds that the lotto will make that money up. Bullshit! But I'll still buy my dollar ticket, when I remember, and if I ever do win big...I'd devote my entire life to giving it all way.
posted by QueerAngel28 at 9:30 AM on May 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've never had good luck on the lottery personally, but I still have a happy story to tell:

I had scheduled an appointment for a tooth cleaning, and the hygienist mentioned the date fell on her birthday. So when it came time for the appointment, I bought a scratch-off ticket as a gift. She won $10 on it (which is better than I usually do).

Later she was attending a birthday gathering for a friend, so when she cashed in her $10 winnings, she bought a scratch-off for that person.

That ticket turned out to be worth $5000.

She told me the story the next time I was in for a cleaning. It made my week.
posted by rochrobbb at 2:42 PM on May 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Not sure why so many people here are against the lottery. When the jackpot goes over 100 million I try to always buy a ticket. If I'll win I'll put the money in a bank and live off the interest. If I'll lose I'll be out of 1 or 2 dollars. I can't however see myself buying multiple tickets for the same game. Imagine if you buy 2 tickets and each ticket has half of the numbers. That would be kinda nice as you'll still get some money but it'll be kinda sad as you're not winning the big jackpot.

Oh, and you can get the money as one lump sum. It's not the same amount as the maximum jackpot but it's still a lot of money. They tell you the lump sum amounts on lotto websites.
posted by I-baLL at 6:14 AM on May 21, 2013


Zuckerberg... let's remember to acknowledge that the guy already had the cards stacked massively in his favor by the time he made it to Harvard.

Are you talking about the fact that he knew how to program? That seems to have been the key factor that made Facebook possible.
posted by the jam at 10:44 AM on May 21, 2013


What made it a success is that it was seeded by Harvard students rather than employees at Google.
posted by Meatbomb at 4:21 PM on May 21, 2013


On a recent powerball drawing the jackpot was immense, say $500 million and the reported odds were only something like 1 in 25 million, so why didn't a bank or an investor simply buy 25 million tickets and essentially guarantee a 2000% return?

It has been attempted. There are several problems. First, it's almost impossible to buy all the combinations, and after recent attempts like this, lottery systems have slowed the process down, making it even more difficult. Secondly, there's no guarantee you'll win all the jackpot, one or more other tickets with the winning number might split it. Also, how do you keep track of 25 million tickets, so your people don't end up buying the same numbers? And how do you find a winning ticket out of 25 million slips of paper?
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:11 PM on May 21, 2013


Also, since the whole thing is based on actual people purchasing little slips of paper in gas stations and corner stores, just think of the staffing and coordination this would require.

You'd have to hire a quarter of a million people to each buy a thousand tickets. Even assuming that a person could buy a thousand lottery tickets in an efficient way, you would basically need an entire HR department to recruit, instruct, and coordinate the effort. You would need analysts and strategists and project managers to figure out how to carry out a plan like "buy all the lottery combinations". You would need an accounting department to funnel cash around in small denominations (even if you reimburse everyone for their ticket purchases, that's a quarter of a million checks to cut).

And you'd have to pay all these people. Even at the bottom rung, the people who are only buying lottery tickets, think of the labor required in purchasing a thousand lottery tickets. Oh, and now you have to somehow manage that data in a way that makes it possible to find out if the winning ticket is one of your thousand. And you have to figure out what to do with a thousand tiny slips of paper.

You'd end up spending the equivalent of the jackpot just setting up the operation.

You also have to trust this random nobody hired hand who holds the winning ticket to give it to you and not just cash it in for themselves.
posted by Sara C. at 9:36 PM on May 21, 2013


I have a relative who gives everyone multiple scratchoff tickets in their stocking at Christmas.

Getting hooked on gambling: The gift that keeps giving.
posted by colie at 4:45 AM on May 22, 2013


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