I had hoped no one would win Wednesday’s Powerball drawing. Selfish, perhaps, but I wanted this article to surf a frenzied wave of lotto fever to a satisfying emotional climax.
But, as often happens where the lottery is concerned, things decidedly did not go my way. No doubt you already know that three assholes absconded with $1.6 billion USD intended for our schools. Taking money away from our children?! Shame, shame!
Instead my article falls flat on its face. You readers are left to ponder, “Lotto? What lotto?” After all, it was three whole days ago.
The Powerball is offered in 44 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. My version of the lotto is played like this: “Can I at least be in the same state as a winner?” The odds of that, in this case, were 3 in 44. Since I’m in Oregon, I lost at that kind of lotto, too.
It’s like buying 20 Powerball tickets and failing to match a single number. I’m good at that. Say what you will about the lotto, but one thing it’s not is understated. It makes its point about your standing in the universe with all the subtlety and grace of a sledgehammer to the face.
The odds? News media frothily repeated them this week in their breathless coverage of the $1.6 billion jackpot. One in 292 million. It turns out your odds of dying on the way to your neighborhood 7-Eleven are higher than matching all the numbers. A lot higher.
America is a great country founded on the premise that if you work hard good things can happen to you. That’s why our fondest collective dream is winning something for nothing. Last year we spent $70.15 billion on lotteries. That’s more than we spent on music, movies, video games, books, and sports tickets – combined.
We’re told repeatedly that the lottery is a form of “entertainment” that “does good things” like fund schools, help small business, and whatnot. Assuming this is true then the lottery represents the greatest voluntary tax system invented by humans. Or, as I like to call it, unfair taxation of the stupid.
That’s unfortunate since, as we’ve all heard, the lion’s share of lottery revenues come from those who can afford it the least. “[The] poor are still the leading patron of the lottery and even the people who were made to feel poor buy lotteries.” A Yale study found that “receipt of scratch lottery tickets as gifts during childhood or adolescence was associated with risky/problematic gambling and with gambling-related attitudes, behaviors, and views suggesting greater gambling acceptability.” And a study in a psychology journal found that “lottery outlets are often clustered in neighborhoods with large numbers of minorities, who are at greatest risk for developing gambling addictions.”
I heard it explained like this: People who are not poor play the lottery for fun. People who are poor play the lottery because they need money.
To put my own spin on it, let me say this to people who buy lottery tickets: rich people are laughing at you.
So it comes to this. The government is our bookie. 50 years ago gambling was illegal in every state except Nevada. It took considerable effort to get thee hence to Las Vegas. Now in 44 states it has permeated itself to the extent that it’s in our neighborhoods and just down the block. The local bar has Las Vegas style gambling machines and lottery tickets are available in every convenience and grocery store. Gambling is as easy and buying beer and cigarettes. Nothing is easier than that.
Not content to simply offer the lotto, government actively engages in the act of promoting it. Fun-filled and fanciful commercials depicting everyday folk enjoying the good life are all over the television. The government, in the role of bookie, is actively encouraging the populace to gamble. And, just to show that they mean well and mess with our heads, they give a little equal time to gambling public service announcements. Wink, wink.
Buying a lottery ticket is sold as a form of “entertainment.” What’s entertaining about that? It would be a lot more thrilling to take my hundred dollar bill out in the street and set it on fire. “Play responsibly?” The only way to do that is boycott the lotto.
John Oliver on the show Last Week Tonight did a wonderful job of describing another problem with lotteries. They are sold on the premise that the money will be used for the public good, like schools. Lottery funds are “dedicated” and can only be used for certain things. So what did state governments do? They followed the letter of the law if not the spirit. The lottery funds remained dedicated while other non-dedicated funds were slushed somewhere else. The net result? Schools ended up with same budgets while the slushies were used for corporate welfare. Look it up. It’s amazeballs. (Which are the only true powerballs.)
By now you’re probably saying, “Shut the fuck up with all that crap. Lotteries are fun. Winning would be good. It would change my life.” I know. I feel the same way. It turns out that a shocking number of winners end up financially ruined within seven years. Or worse. Sometimes they end up dead.
Winning a lottery can be a powerful recipe for destroying your life as you know it. It can turn friends and relatives against you. After all, who can resist the allure of riches beyond avarice? Certainly not you, the one who bought the ticket.
It turns out that by buying a ticket you’re essentially signing up for the full treatment. You’re agreeing to the End User License Agreement. One of the caveats? You can’t stay anonymous. You can’t quietly take your winnings, tuck the money away, and go on living your life like nothing happened. Only five Powerball states afford you the legal right to remain anonymous. Why is this? After the money itself the thing the government wants the most is happy winners. See? This could happen to you! Buy more tickets! Tough noogies if it ruins their lives. This is entertainment, remember?
The existence of a “lottery curse” cannot be scientifically proven but it’s increasingly difficult to show that winning is a good thing. So many things can go wrong. Too much change can be devastating. It might seem counterintuitive, but even a change that seems positive can turn out bad. Probably my favorite story is the one about the wife who won, tried to keep her winnings a secret, and left her husband. Should I be happy my wife is buying tickets?!
If people are willing to gun each other down in the streets over $5 in a wallet what do you think millions can do? Let’s watch.
My advice? (Not that anyone asked.) Play “Personal Power” and play it responsibly. Each time you don’t buy a lottery ticket you’ve entered yourself in the only game you can truly win. It’s just that easy. (But don’t worry. I’ll be running PSAs encouraging you to do the opposite.)
That’s how the game is played.