Lotteries and the poor

A recent Washington Post article focuses on something many of you probably know: lotteries are terrible for poor people, because lottery participants are disproportionately poor and (of course) the odds against winning are astronomically high. The Post story also makes another, more subtle point about the problem with lotteries: many people write off the deleterious effects of lotteries on poor people as the product of voluntary choice. But that’s an easier opinion to hold if you’re someone with more choices to begin with. The article explains:

It's not that poor people don't understand that the lottery has a near-zero chance of making them dynastically wealthy. It's that they think everything else has an actually-zero chance. That's why … people making less than $30,000 are 25 percent more likely to say that they buy lottery tickets for money than for fun, while it's the opposite for everyone else. State lotteries, in other words, don't just prey on poor people's dreams—they do that for everyone—but rather on desperate dreams.

Read the article here.

0 thoughts on “Lotteries and the poor

  1. Laurie Norton says:

    John, Are you saying you think “less enlightened folks” are spending their money “wisely” when they buy lottery tickets? Personally, I don’t think the government should be encouraging “gratuitous expenditure[s]” by the poor. It would be much more honest and less regressive to simply raise taxes on those who can afford it, instead of encouraging gambling by the naive and/or desperate.

  2. John Kelleher says:

    Scott, do you find it a bit contemptuous or at least condescending that most of these tax-on-the-poor arguments are delivered by rich or upper-middle-class moralizers trying to tell those less enlightened folks how to spend their money more wisely? Like, say, on a $200 bottle of wine. Many (more than 50% of the U.S. population play the Lottery) play for escape entertainment, like going to the movies, among other motivations. One man’s gratuitous expenditure is another man’s night at the opera.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *