A Bright, Blinding Dream
August 5, 2019 8:21 AM   Subscribe

“My mother worked, my mother dreamed, but these alone did not afford her financial stability. The lottery is another of America’s promises for economic mobility that it has no intention of keeping. As Jonathan Cohen, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Virginia studying Amerian lotteries, told Bloomberg last year: “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that state lotteries started emerging in the 1970s and 1980s when rates of social mobility in the traditional economy stagnated and then declined.” IT’S TIME TO GET RID OF THE LOTTERY (Outline)
posted by The Whelk (60 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
 
One afternoon in first grade my mother surprised me by picking me up early from school. I had never left school early before, and I knew something big must have happened. There was only one possibility in my mind — that we’d won the lottery. I skipped down the linoleum-floored hallway to the office where she was signing the paperwork to take me home. In the car I asked her if it was really true: Had we won? No, my mother said. Dad and I are getting a divorce.

Spoiler alert:


She’s still playing, and still hasn’t won.
posted by TedW at 8:31 AM on August 5, 2019 [5 favorites]


If we get rid of the lottery, we're going to have to dedicate a lot of resources to shutting down the numbers rackets that will spring up again, and in primarily poor/minority neighborhoods. That doesn't necessarily mean we shouldn't, but it is something to think about.
posted by praemunire at 8:33 AM on August 5, 2019 [33 favorites]


They have lottery machines in the grocery store now. I looked at it, and it sells, among other things, scratch-off tickets in $5, $10, and even, I think, $20 amounts. That's expoitative as hell! I hate to think of someone buying those. You'd have better odds betting on horses, or playing an illegal numbers racket, or just about any form of gambling.

I voted yes to the Georgia lottery, just before I moved out of state, suckered by the idea that it would fund education. The first time I saw a line of ticket buyers, I knew I had made a mistake. These were not, uh, wealthy people. Not middle-class. They didn't have money to just piss away, but the dream of a big win was luring them to do just that.
posted by thelonius at 8:37 AM on August 5, 2019 [7 favorites]




I recently helped clean out a good friend's mother's room after her mother had to be put into a memory care unit. Mom had a hoarding disorder, and also played the lottery like it was her job. The boxes and boxes and boxes of betting slips and tickets were so overwhelming that it took dozens of trash bags full of them to clear the room. If each ticket and/or slip only represented $1 (most of the scratchers were at least $5, most bet slips at least $5, but let's just say $1 for now), there would have been at least $20,000 worth of paper in that room. And that didn't account for the tens and tens of huge boxes of tickets that my friend had removed from other parts of the house, or the dozens and dozens of boxes of tickets that we recycled when her mother moved a decade before.

That, plus Publisher's Clearinghouse, which, as her memory slipped, my friend's mother actually thought was her job (because of all the games that are set up to fool older people that they have more chances to win if they just order things online and play games online) make me hate gambling in a way that is intense and visceral. And yet, I can't keep myself from occasionally succumbing to the scratch ticket machine at the grocery store if I have a spare bill or two in my pocket.

Evil stuff.
posted by xingcat at 8:51 AM on August 5, 2019 [13 favorites]


A lottery ticket is fine if it comes out of your entertainment budget, which is how you are playing it, xingcat. If you get 15 minutes of pleasant daydreaming out of a $1 ticket that's about the same as a movie ticket. The problem is that I suspect most of the money lotteries make come from people who are playing it as "an investment", which is of course disastrous. I suspect it is pretty much the same math as the way gatcha box games go for whales.
posted by tavella at 8:57 AM on August 5, 2019 [13 favorites]


Lottery - CalEdFacts
In November 1984, California voters passed Proposition 37, now known as Non-Prop 20, as a means to benefit public education. Since the California State Lottery began in 1985, the state has distributed 50 percent of lottery sales revenue back to the public in the form of prizes. Of the remaining revenues, public education, from kindergarten through graduate school, has received more than the statutorily required 34 percent minimum, with the state using less than the maximum 16 percent legally allowed to administer the games. In 2010, legislation was passed that modified the allocation formula for lottery in order to maximize the amount of funding allocated to public education. The legislation reduces the maximum percent to administer the games to 13 percent and allows the State Lottery Commission (SLC) to increase the percentage of lottery revenues for prizes to more than 50 percent and to establish the percentage to be allocated to public education. If the change in law does not provide more revenues for public education than the year prior to the law’s enactment, the prior revenue-allocation law will be restored.
2018–19 Third Quarter Lottery Apportionment
The State Controller’s Office (SCO) distributed the 2018–19 third quarter lottery apportionment on June 26, 2019. The total apportioned to county offices of education, school districts, and charter schools is $367,681,256.56. Local educational agencies (LEAs) will receive $177,264,251.08 or $28.70 ($28.696882971) per unit of average daily attendance (ADA) for the unrestricted lottery apportionment and $190,417,005.48 or $30.83 ($30.826150610) per unit of ADA for the Proposition 20 lottery apportionment.
Looking at those ratios (50% paid back as winnings, 37% to education, 13% administration), $367,681,256.56 paid to education means $129,185,306.36 was paid for administration.

Yeah, not the boon to education that it is touted to be. Really, that aspect feels like a way to give people some way to feel good about gambling, if the hope for a big pay-out isn't enough.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:57 AM on August 5, 2019 [3 favorites]


I think a step in the right direction would be to vastly dilute the pay out for the big Powerball, Mega Millions type lotteries. Instead of one 100 million dollar winner make it 1 million one hundred dollar winners. I imagine there has been plenty of research about how to get people to gamble and I am wondering if any of it shows that the size of the payoff compared to the amount bet is much more powerful than the size of the remoteness of winning.
posted by Pembquist at 8:58 AM on August 5, 2019 [7 favorites]


In Kenya I encountered an interesting community driven savings scheme: five or ten people would pay into a pot every week, and simply rotate who got to take home all the cash in the pot. Its a pretty effective strategy: the cash is out of reach, so immune to short term concerns. And the size of the clump is enough to take care of a meaningful larger purchase.

I think the lottery is (failing) to scratch a similar problem. Five bucks won't make any meaningful difference, but a larger amount could. So might as well roll the dice.

(As a bonus, the community scheme leads to tighter social bonds and mutual support, which the lottery distinctly doesn't provide...)
posted by kaibutsu at 8:59 AM on August 5, 2019 [25 favorites]


Yes. People look at 100 million dollars and think it's life changing and they want a chance at that - whereas people would be much more realistic on the odds if it was winning 100$.
posted by corb at 9:00 AM on August 5, 2019


I wish someone would do a really great Metafilter post on The Numbers.
posted by all about eevee at 9:00 AM on August 5, 2019 [1 favorite]


As I understand it, the original justification for state lotteries was somewhat similar to cannabis legalization: "this is going to happen anyway, so let's legalize and regulate it (and also capture the revenue for the state instead of letting it go to criminals)". I think many people realized it was always a sort of morally hazardous occupation, along with state-run casinos and other forms of gambling.

I'm sympathetic to that argument, but I think what's happened in the last 40 years is that state lotteries have forgotten their original mission -- which was to provide a harm-reduced alternative to illegal numbers games, while raising some revenue on the side -- and become profit centers, run like for-profit businesses, in nakedly exploitative ways.

The way various games have proliferated, particularly the really impulse-triggering ones like scratch-offs, and prices have climbed (e.g. the $10 and $20 scratchers) really undermines the harm-reduction argument. And the advertising! Why is a state lottery advertising? They don't need to create demand for their products.

If state lotteries were nothing but a weekly lottery, mirroring the numbers games they were meant to displace, and with no advertising except at the immediate point of sale (so that you know they exist), I wonder if we'd have as many people spending as much money that they really can't afford on them.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:03 AM on August 5, 2019 [17 favorites]


So sort of related, I saw a trending hashtag last Friday called ugh I hate even typing it #CashAppFriday and it seemed like a scam where everyone solicits others to send money to them and then "pays out" to others. That's what I gleaned anyway, it was insane. Anyone else heard of this and can clarify if I'm wrong or right?

Aaaaaaaand that's the airplane game that happened in the 1980s I learned about from The Dream podcast about MLMs. It's a pyramid scheme. People actually fucking did this. People. Why. Are. You. So. Dumb.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 9:03 AM on August 5, 2019 [6 favorites]


The podcast Citations Needed had an excellent episode on this topic back in January: Episode 63: Gambling and Neoliberal Rot - How Our Most Regressive Tax Flies Under the Radar.

If we get rid of the lottery, we're going to have to dedicate a lot of resources to shutting down the numbers rackets that will spring up again, and in primarily poor/minority neighborhoods. That doesn't necessarily mean we shouldn't, but it is something to think about.

It really isn't:
Except easily accessible, large scale gambling doesn’t exist without state sanction. It’s a creation of corporate and neoliberal govt interests to tax the poor. With rare exceptions Casino and lottery level gambling doesn’t exist organically. It’s a just an exotic regressive tax
Crime will always exist, as will gambling, but there can't be anything exploiting people on the scale of government lotteries without the government, and they exploit primarily exactly people in poor/minority neighborhoods.

Whatever possible problems criminal numbers rackets may cause, they pale in comparison.
posted by Sangermaine at 9:03 AM on August 5, 2019 [2 favorites]


In Islam games of chance are utterly forbidden. There are circumstances where it’s permitted to use small amounts of alcohol. These are medical circumstances. The same could be said of pork. It’s fine to get a shingles vaccine even though it says right on the box ‘porcine gelatin’ and in a survival situation, you are stuck someplace in the middle of nowhere and the absolute only available thing to eat is a dead pig you found, you can eat enough to get to a safe place.
There is no circumstance which permits gambling. Gambling in all it’s forms is very disruptive socially. It causes envy. For some idiot reason Mr. Roquette began to play that Publisher’s Clearing House Thing and it took for damn EVER to get him to quit. He had much more junk mail. Most of it was one kind of scam or another. I finally got him to quit because he realized that no one ever actually wins. Eventually it got through his head that this was a bad thing. I too wish we could get rid of the lottery. The numbers racket would likely replace it though.
Someone once said the lottery is a tax on poverty and stupidity. My math abilities aren’t great but even I get why winning is mathematically not too likely.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 9:09 AM on August 5, 2019 [8 favorites]


Looking at those ratios (50% paid back as winnings, 37% to education, 13% administration), $367,681,256.56 paid to education means $129,185,306.36 was paid for administration.

Assuming that includes ads, which it'd have to given the 100% allocation, that doesn't seem ridiculous.
posted by mark k at 9:13 AM on August 5, 2019 [2 favorites]


If we get rid of the lottery, we're going to have to dedicate a lot of resources to shutting down the numbers rackets that will spring up again, and in primarily poor/minority neighborhoods. That doesn't necessarily mean we shouldn't, but it is something to think about.

My first response was also to say that one can't really talk about the history of state lotteries without talking about the illegal lotteries they replaced. I'm sure one could probably make an argument that those illegal lotteries were better for communities, economically, since they were largely moving money around within the community at smaller scale. The counterpoint to that would be that, for sure, more people were getting murdered over the lottery when it was illegal. The counterpoint to that might be that the criminogenic effect of people being broke because they play the state lottery is not fully accounted for.
posted by atoxyl at 9:19 AM on August 5, 2019 [3 favorites]


Someone once said the lottery is a tax on poverty and stupidity.

Beware the "lottery = stupidity tax" analogy. It's a favorite among Libertarian types because it's another way to blame the poor for being poor.
posted by Atom Eyes at 9:29 AM on August 5, 2019 [23 favorites]


I saw a paper few years back that found the pre-nationalization lotteries tended to pay out a higher proportion of their revenues as winnings.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 9:29 AM on August 5, 2019 [3 favorites]


Except easily accessible, large scale gambling doesn’t exist without state sanction.

Yeah, it doesn't exist now. Are you seriously attempting to argue that the numbers racket wasn't a serious institution in large cities in particular in the first half of the prior century?
posted by praemunire at 9:32 AM on August 5, 2019


The counterpoint to that would be that, for sure, more people were getting murdered over the lottery when it was illegal.

There's the murdering (probably less of an issue than for, say, loansharking, because you generally pay up front for the numbers), and there's also the issue of its being a funding source for organized crime.
posted by praemunire at 9:33 AM on August 5, 2019 [4 favorites]


A lottery ticket is fine if it comes out of your entertainment budget

but you can't separate the two. the same things that make it a pleasant, harmless daydream for some make it a predatory nightmare for those susceptible. that daydream is subsidized by systemic victimization.

the lottery is both conceptually and in practice one of the grosser outputs of capitalism. I spend some quantity of my emotional bandwidth resisting a minor, persistent urge to play it every single stupid day.
posted by Kybard at 9:37 AM on August 5, 2019 [3 favorites]


Yes. People look at 100 million dollars and think it's life changing and they want a chance at that - whereas people would be much more realistic on the odds if it was winning 100$.


Research has indeed shown that larger jackpot amounts entice more people to participate. So making the payouts $100 probably wouldn’t hit the sweet spot the administrators are trying for.

That being said, from everything I’ve read, the multi-million-dollar jackpots aren’t just life changing, they are life destroying.

I’ve always felt that lottery jackpots should be big enough to be life changing, without tipping into that “this is an absurd amount of money for someone to suddenly be responsible for” zone. So I’m in favor of $1,000,000 jackpots.

If you take the lump-sum payment, it’s $500k. For 99% of the US population, being handed a check for $500k is truly life changing. It’s a new house, plus a new car, plus a fantastic vacation, plus paying off all of your debts. Or, it’s med school tuition at the most prestigious university in the country, so you graduate debt-free.

Or, if someone decided to take the money over 30 years, it’s a livable wage or $33k/year, meaning you can have a career doing what you love, instead of some job you hate.

A million bucks is quite enough.

Imagine that, instead of one person receiving a $100 million lottery jackpot, instead you have a hundred people getting a million dollars.

Hell, for that matter, given that it’s predominately poorer people that play the lottery, jackpots of $100,000 could be seriously life changing. A thousand people a week receiving a $100,000 payout would be a hell of a lot better than one person receiving a robber baron windfall.
posted by darkstar at 9:37 AM on August 5, 2019 [29 favorites]


In Kenya I encountered an interesting community driven savings scheme: five or ten people would pay into a pot every week, and simply rotate who got to take home all the cash in the pot. Its a pretty effective strategy: the cash is out of reach, so immune to short term concerns. And the size of the clump is enough to take care of a meaningful larger purchase.


Very common also among immigrant communities in the US.


I think the lottery is (failing) to scratch a similar problem. Five bucks won't make any meaningful difference, but a larger amount could. So might as well roll the dice.


In New York, there was something called the "numbers game", a lower stakes game that used the state lottery numbers. You'd bet on some of the numbers in the next lottery, and get a winning more frequently than the actual lottery. It was still a less-than-zero sum game, but the winnings were more frequent, and the house's take much, much smaller, so it effectively served the same purpose: put money out of reach of the neverending short term concerns a lower income family has.

It was a racket, and a loss, but low interest savings accounts are also a loss when there's inflation..

Another example of it is Obamacare (and HSAs). Mandate insurance, so that the money is put out of reach, and then use it on health care.
posted by ocschwar at 9:37 AM on August 5, 2019 [1 favorite]


The lottery is a tax on those who failed statistics class.

(or didn't take it...which skews toward poor people so it's a regressive tax)
posted by notsnot at 9:38 AM on August 5, 2019 [2 favorites]


I’ve never played the lottery because I know full well it’s a scam, but I’ve spent $130 on Overwatch loot boxes, so
posted by ejs at 9:41 AM on August 5, 2019 [9 favorites]


I wish someone would do a really great Metafilter post on The Numbers.

Would you accept a really great podcast?
posted by escape from the potato planet at 9:58 AM on August 5, 2019 [9 favorites]


^ (a criminal episode rec - yay!!)
posted by Foci for Analysis at 10:03 AM on August 5, 2019


Yeah, it doesn't exist now. Are you seriously attempting to argue that the numbers racket wasn't a serious institution in large cities in particular in the first half of the prior century?

No, it never existed ever at the current scale. That's the point.

I'm seriously stating that lotteries on the scale that they exist now are not possible without state sanction. Of course illegal gambling existed and was a problem, but they weren't and couldn't operate on the scale of millions or tens of millions of people across entire states or multiple states. That requires state organization.

These government-operated lotteries exploit the poor on a scale simply not possible for even criminal enterprises. Of course crime is a concern and should be addressed, but it's not even a consideration when discussing the effects of the lottery system on people.
posted by Sangermaine at 10:08 AM on August 5, 2019 [3 favorites]


I think gambling is one of those (largely self defeating, illogical) things that humans will just do and we as a society have to figure out how to handle it beyond just making the people who do it into criminals.
posted by Selena777 at 10:09 AM on August 5, 2019 [4 favorites]


Obligatory Camper Van Beethoven
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 10:20 AM on August 5, 2019 [1 favorite]


escape from the potato planet, that's how I found out about The Numbers! But it seems like there's more to it than that and surely there's a knowledgeable Mefite out there who knows more or who could point to more resources beyond the (very good) Criminal episode.
posted by all about eevee at 10:22 AM on August 5, 2019 [1 favorite]


The lottery is a tax on those who failed statistics class.

I always hated this sort of phrasing whether it's blaming the ignorant/stupid/foolish. It's like saying alcoholism is a tax on those who failed chemistry.

The people who don't treat these games as minor entertainment are almost always desperate or addicted or both. Equating buying lottery tickets to being stupid is the same sort of offensive dismissive language that people who say fat people should just eat less engage in.
posted by Mitheral at 10:31 AM on August 5, 2019 [25 favorites]


The marketing that goes into it really skives me out, seeing as how it's state run. I remember when I started going over the border to NH from MA to buy cheaper cigarettes (another vice for another thread): I was a little freaked out to see their lotto tickets had entirely different graphic styles, and they looked like coloring book illustrations. It really put me off, but then it's not like there's a non-off putting way to do it. Of course they don't look like that anymore.

I can't find any galleries of vintage lotto and scratch ticket galleries. Anyone know where to look?
posted by es_de_bah at 10:40 AM on August 5, 2019


I throw the occasional $20 at lottery tickets, considering it part of the entertainment budget. I'm not poor, I'm not stupid, I'm not uneducated or worse at math than humans tend to be. I don't think my participation or non-participation in the lottery hurts anyone else.

I also don't have any illusions that the lottery is good for education funding. At least in Florida, the promises were immediately forgotten and education funding was cut more than the lottery added. The amount of funding school districts get from the lottery each year is enough to cover two days or less of operating costs. I'm sure other states (especially red ones) are just as bad about it.
posted by Foosnark at 10:45 AM on August 5, 2019 [3 favorites]


The lottery is a tax on those who failed statistics class

Speaking as someone who occasionally teaches statistics, you are mistaken. Buying lottery tickets is irrational from an expected money point of view, but in some circumstances it may be defensible from an expected utility perspective. Someone in sufficiently dire straits may (sometimes correctly) estimate that a savings strategy simply cannot significantly improve the life circumstances they find unacceptable; a 1/200M chance of escape might be a rational choice compared to literally no chance.

Lottery tickets are a tax on desperation.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 11:26 AM on August 5, 2019 [77 favorites]


When I toiled as a cubicle slave, lottery pools were common. Anytime the Powerball reached a certain amount that would generate $3 million each (after taxes) we'd play, kicking in a buck or two each. When the jackpot hit that amount, we would say it had "FU value" - we could walk away from our jobs with that three million each. Nowdays with the low interest rates I suspect 5 million would be the equivalent of FU value.

It gave us a fantasy for a few days, got us through our dreary soul-eating days.
posted by Ber at 11:29 AM on August 5, 2019 [13 favorites]


I'm seriously stating that lotteries on the scale that they exist now are not possible without state sanction. Of course illegal gambling existed and was a problem, but they weren't and couldn't operate on the scale of millions or tens of millions of people across entire states or multiple states. That requires state organization.

Are people on MF arguing that a greed driven shady enterprise would best be run by the private sector?
posted by 2N2222 at 11:53 AM on August 5, 2019 [5 favorites]


It's disturbing how much gambling has been lowly legalized and then seeps into everyday life. Nowadays you can't even play a videogame without jumping into some kind of goddamn casino-but-worse. Forget these people playing for an infinitesimal chance to win, we have companies convincing adults and children alike to come spend time and money in their little digital casino where you have 0% chance of ever winning anything because all of the "prizes" are legally the property of the casino. Imagine winning the lottery or a jackpot and then the company running the show says "oh, we keep all that money you win, thanks for playin!"

The only argument I've ever seen pro-gambling people put forth is that "it's fun." Eat shit if your rationale for why something harmful to individuals and society should be allowed is because some people can be manipulated into thinking an activity is "fun."
posted by GoblinHoney at 11:59 AM on August 5, 2019 [1 favorite]


When the lottery was legalized in TN, my math teacher literally started crying in class. She was (like many of my public school teachers) A Very Public Christian, and I assumed that her objections were religious. Now that I'm soul-weary and slightly more sympathetic to my teachers, I'm not so sure. I have probably spent $100-$200 in my life playing Powerball. I know that's nothing in terms of gambling addiction, but it's kind of insane since my official position on the lottery is that if you think you will win it, you are not safe playing it. Do I think I will win the lottery when I play? Hahahaha, no, of course not. I mean. Probably not, I understand the odds are astronomical. Though I guess someone has to win eventually...if you wait until Powerball is at $750 million, enough tickets will be purchased that someone will probably win. At that point, isn't it crazy not to play?

Lottery marketing has gotten really aggressive in the last few years -- every time one of the big draw games rolls over to $250+ million, the web and radio are flooded with ads telling people they could strike it rich. There is something very psychologically powerful about the fantasy of sudden wealth, and maybe it's worth asking whether the government should be involved in pushing something so addictive.

(FWIW TN is one of the few states where the lottery money is actually doing what the legislature promised because the proceeds are specifically funneled into scholarships for TN high school students going to a TN state college. My understanding is that the states that just throw the money into "education" in general have used it as a replacement rather than a supplement, which sucks.)
posted by grandiloquiet at 12:00 PM on August 5, 2019 [4 favorites]


Are people on MF arguing that a greed driven shady enterprise would best be run by the private sector?

I think if you look at the worst things that state-run lotteries do, they're when the lottery agencies are emulating private companies and trying to expand their customer base or wring more profits from their existing customers.

I think it would be a mistake to push lotteries back underground (not that it's really likely to happen at this point). But I definitely think it would be good to take a really hard look at lottery products, especially vs. what kinds of customer they appeal to.

Prohibit state lotteries from advertising, and limit them to products where there's no instant, slot-machine-like gratification—say, nothing that pays off less than 24 hours from the time of purchase, i.e. each week's lotto stops selling tickets 24 hours before the drawing, perhaps—and I think you'd probably retain the harm-reductive / anti-numbers-racket properties while also eliminating some of the most seductive and destructive aspects.

It would be really interesting to see an analysis of what lottery products appeal to what demographics; I would bet (ha) that the casual, "entertainment expense" players that the lottery theoretically is meant for are only buying certain types of stuff, and there are other products that are almost only bought by people with a really unhealthy relationship to gambling. I'm very skeptical of high-denomination scratch-off tickets, for instance. But maybe I'm wrong—the first step would be to figure out what the "whales" are buying. Nobody who's spending thousands of dollars a month on a state lottery is probably doing so just for casual amusement's sake.

Of course, expecting the US (or any portion thereof) to take a rational approach to any sort of perceived vice is a very tall order. We seem to have only two modes: complete, total, and militarized prohibition, or totally laissez-faire, deregulated, profit-maximizing legalization.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:26 PM on August 5, 2019 [4 favorites]


Okay, I think I know what statistical model I want to futz with. There is an episode of the office where the warehouse workers win a lottery pool. I want to look at if sales bumped right after that and had a sustained bump.

But what other highly rated shows/movies/cultural events in the past few decades could've encouraged a similar thing to look at? Like if Cheers had a character winning the lottery. Maybe I should post an AskMe...
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 1:33 PM on August 5, 2019 [2 favorites]


advertising agency David&Goliath rebranded the California SuperLotto Plus with the new slogan: “May The Best Dream Win.

David&Goliath? Sounds like they know which fighter they're allied to.
posted by doctornemo at 1:35 PM on August 5, 2019


grandiloquiet: Lottery marketing has gotten really aggressive in the last few years -- every time one of the big draw games rolls over to $250+ million, the web and radio are flooded with ads telling people they could strike it rich.

Lottery - WIN HERE! (Google streetview; Imgur archive). This is close to home, here in New Mexico, the land of casinos, so it's not such a shocking message, still a bold statement to make at a random gas station (I'm not sure if they've had a number of winners in the past, or if they're just being optimistic).
posted by filthy light thief at 2:00 PM on August 5, 2019


These government-operated lotteries exploit the poor on a scale simply not possible for even criminal enterprises. Of course crime is a concern and should be addressed, but it's not even a consideration when discussing the effects of the lottery system on people.

I'm sorry, I really don't think you've thought this through. Say the numbers only replaces half the business of the state lottery. Say only a quarter. Two points: (1) That money now flows through criminal enterprises, itself harmful. (2) Much more important: In enforcing the ban the state will be bringing its coercive powers to bear on already vulnerable communities. Right now, basically nobody gets their door kicked in, nobody gets shot, nobody gets excluded from eligibility for public housing, nobody gets deported over the lottery. Make the lottery illegal again, and it will be happening. That this apparently did not even occur to you illustrates the serious weakness of mere abstract economic analysis of this kind of situation.
posted by praemunire at 2:08 PM on August 5, 2019 [4 favorites]


How's this for an idea: let the states continue to run legal lotteries, but ban the advertising.
posted by TedW at 3:04 PM on August 5, 2019 [5 favorites]


To state up front: the lottery as a whole is a regressive tax. And yeah the advertising is gross.

I passed college statistics and still play the lottery sometimes. It's not a pure numbers game; if it was, of course I wouldn't play. It's illogical to pay 1x for a 1/290,000,000x chance of winning 100,000,000x. But if those x's are $'s, well, I'm actually paying for a chance to live the life I want, which is worth way more than any given dollar amount because I only live once, you know? Having "He Lived Rationally" engraved on my pauper's tombstone is not a hill I'm interested in dying on (so to speak).

Again, obviously the state-run lotteries as they exist are a problem because so many people treat them as an investment, and it represents tho ONLY way up for huge populations of people, which is really shitting in a lot of ways.

California at least has $30 scratcher tickets as well. They cost more, but the chance of winning your money back is higher than lower priced scratchers. So it's better from a cost perspective than buying 30 $1 scratchers. Can't look up the actual odds right now because my work blocks gambling sites!
posted by smokysunday at 3:25 PM on August 5, 2019 [3 favorites]


Are people on MF arguing that a greed driven shady enterprise would best be run by the private sector?

Not quite sure if you mean this ironically, but yes.

As far as I'm concerned, if the state needs money for essential functions it should tax. Banning private garment manufacture so it could make a profit selling government clothes would be a bad way to make money. Running the lottery is like doing that *and* maintaining sweatshop conditions on the shop floors to boot.

Along those lines I also don't get praemunire's logic that the state needs to remain in this exploitative business because it it doesn't exploit the poor someone else will. This is like OK with me? I'd rather not have my government be in the active exploiting business. (There is also obviously a vast middle ground available between "the government actively does something" and "this thing is totally outlawed.")
posted by mark k at 5:51 PM on August 5, 2019 [2 favorites]


I've known several people who would claim that they earned a profit on buying scratch off and lottery tickets, pointing to past wins in the $5000-range. But just being around them, it was clear that they were doing funny math, remembering the wins and not quite adding up all of the costs.

The sentence in the FPP tying the appeal of lotteries to limited social mobility/opportunity rings true to me. If you have options and you see your life improving, the lottery has a lot less appeal than if you are stuck in a terrible situation that will never get better.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:57 PM on August 5, 2019


There's the murdering (probably less of an issue than for, say, loansharking, because you generally pay up front for the numbers), and there's also the issue of its being a funding source for organized crime.

When I wrote that I was actually thinking more along the lines of figures within the world of organized crime being murdered because someone else wanted to take over their numbers business - for the sake of a clear example since this is something that was documented to happen in relation to the numbers racket that obviously doesn't with legal lotteries.
posted by atoxyl at 6:09 PM on August 5, 2019 [1 favorite]


Not quite sure if you mean this ironically, but yes.

It's not uncommon for MeFites to be outraged about private industry X acting immorally, and thus should be nationalized. Or private business X not giving back to the community. Never mind that "acting immorally" or "giving back to the community" are absolutely open to interpretation. Here we have an industry that has been taken over by governments, and specifically gives back to the community, but in this case, it should be handed back to the private sector. Because it's unseemly, the wrong people play, and play too much, and gambling is just so icky. Maybe even immoral.


Looking at those ratios (50% paid back as winnings, 37% to education, 13% administration), $367,681,256.56 paid to education means $129,185,306.36 was paid for administration.

The hand wringing about how much is used for administration you'd think would give food for thought for anyone advocating any other government run enterprise. How many people here thinking that that talking point would use it as a basis to argue against, say, government run health care?
posted by 2N2222 at 6:17 PM on August 5, 2019 [3 favorites]


The sentence in the FPP tying the appeal of lotteries to limited social mobility/opportunity rings true to me. If you have options and you see your life improving, the lottery has a lot less appeal than if you are stuck in a terrible situation that will never get better.

This is certainly true in my case. Back when I had full-time jobs and was getting further ahead financially some every year, I was never tempted to buy lottery tickets. Now that I have chronic fatigue issues and am a freelancer who can't find work and face a grim future, I think about it a lot. I still have never bought a lottery ticket because I can't afford to throw away even a small amount of money, but what I do instead is do the receipt survey whenever I buy anything at Home Depot, No-Frills, Shopper's Drug Mart, or Food Basics, which amounts to maybe eight surveys a month. The odds of my winning those are probably about the same as those of the lottery, but it scratches that itch of giving me hope of a (small) windfall without actually costing me anything but a few minutes here and there.
posted by orange swan at 6:22 PM on August 5, 2019 [7 favorites]


Private companies make, sell, and advertise cigarettes, which is pretty bad, but I never heard anyone argue that it would be better if state governments all started making, selling, and advertising their own cigarettes instead.
posted by value of information at 7:52 PM on August 5, 2019 [1 favorite]


I play when it gets to FU money because just maybe and it's when the number of tickets means somebody(s) going to win pretty soon and I can go back to not playing. It's like tithing, charity, or insurance. If you want that certain feeling and a hope that at least some good comes out of it to someone (hopefully you), then you have pitch in a bit. Gambling is weird.
posted by zengargoyle at 9:50 PM on August 5, 2019


Cigarette advertising still legal in the US? It's illegal here in Canada and a lot of other countries. Who they could be sold to is regulated, they are heavily taxed to create a disincentive to start/continue partaking. Same with weed and to a lesser extent alcohol. Some places in Canada you can only buy alcohol of any type at government owned and run outlets. Other places beer and wine are available at private stores but hard alcohol is sold only at government outlets. Private places that sell alcohol are heavily regulated as to when (hours and days), where, how and for how much (in BC the government sets minimum pricing below which private stores/outlets can not sell product, even as a lost leader) they can can sell alcohol. In BC the province also prohibits most marketing give-aways. Actual production doesn't need to be controlled if you control distribution, marketing and sales but government does heavily regulate production of alcohol and weed (tobacco? IDK.)
posted by Mitheral at 9:55 PM on August 5, 2019


It's not uncommon for MeFites to be outraged about private industry X acting immorally, and thus should be nationalized.

The reason I thought you might be joking because MeFi usually tends towards claiming that capitalists don't do altruistic things well, like delivering health care or student loans. A "shady enterprise" is exactly what the stereotypical MeFite would assume the private industry can do well.

More substantially, I've never seen anyone suggest privatizing branch of the entertainment industry like gambling. People complain about misogynistic comic books, for example, but they don't follow that up with "and the government should take over the publishing so we can make money selling this crap instead of raising taxes."

Because it's unseemly, the wrong people play, and play too much, and gambling is just so icky. Maybe even immoral.

It'd be generally weird and inconsistent policy wise for anyone in favor of more progressive programs to support a regressive revenue generation scheme like the lottery.
posted by mark k at 10:29 PM on August 5, 2019


I mean the biggest problem is that theses state-run lotteries, designed to stop mafia-run lotteries, are behaving like for-profit businesses yes?

So get rid of the for profit part.

-More payouts of small amounts, I love a million dollar cap

-No advertising

-All lottery funds have to be taggeds as "supplemental" not part of the main budget

-Maybe invest the profit of the lottery into a fund to prevent it from being a possible endless lush fund for whoever takes control, or real strict wage and location restrictions - we we have smaller, city-wide lotteries based on zipcodes? you have to live in that one, for example, to be an administrator.


anyway where are a lot of ideas for making it less ....less THIS
posted by The Whelk at 11:29 PM on August 5, 2019 [4 favorites]


The outcome of the state lottery becomes a deflection of responsibility: it directs players’ frustration away from the state for its failures — to provide sufficient welfare, to fund its public school system without relying on those in poverty, to provide a livable minimum wage — and transfigures the state into a potential fairy godmother.

I agree with this, both as an indictment of the lie at the bottom of the lotto (you will win and be transported beyond all your quotidian misery) and the failure of state gov.s to fulfill their responsibilities.

That said, I totally play the lottery when I think of it. The idea of ten dollars a week, every week, (520/year) is a reasonable outlay for a 1 in 100,000,000 chance at FU money. But, yeah, it’s not about winning as much about the ‘chance’ to win, the concept of suddenly becoming like a child born into a fortune - just *like that* having a different life... interesting, inviting but I don’t ‘expect’ to win. The bigger problem is the not winning, I might buy a ticket once a week for a month but after not winning four times I lose interest until a couple months later when it occurs to me again ... similar but different, I dream of playing a concert of Astor Piazzola’s music at Carnegie Hall. First, though, I have to get a bandoneon and which one, really, is going to work best...
posted by From Bklyn at 11:47 PM on August 5, 2019 [1 favorite]


ALso ban online gambling in all forms cause dear god
posted by The Whelk at 11:58 PM on August 5, 2019


You could have governments run lotteries without taxing participants. I.e., a lottery that pays out all its takings. That would eliminate private competition, and it would do something to scratch the itch of people who really want to gamble this way.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:08 PM on August 6, 2019 [2 favorites]


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