By Kevin Binversie
As the multi-state Powerball jackpot crossed the $580 million barrier Wednesday, lottery fever gripped the nation. Gas station and convenience store printers got an intense workout printing millions of tickets for Americans lined-up for a chance at being the next big winner.
So there’s a chance, you say? Yes, roughly one chance in 175 million (.0000000057 percent) that you could be a winner by buying just a single $2 lottery ticket.
Of course, there is also a 99.9999999943 percent chance that you didn’t win either. Naturally, there’s a 0 percent chance if you don’t play.
And, if you’re reading this, chances are you weren’t one of the two jackpot winners Wednesday night in Missouri and Arizona, in which case the harshness of reality has returned. You’re back at your job, grinding the day away. Those dreams of grandeur, of instant wealth, and the hopes of going on a big-ticket shopping spree all dashed in a moment by the interaction of ping pong balls in a television studio, far, far away.
It is easy to make fun of the lottery. Heck, it is far too easy at times.
With insanely high odds — the chances of dying by ludicrous means suddenly sound reasonable by comparison — and a payout scheme that would impress most Ponzi schemers, it’s no wonder the lottery is seen as the country’s most regressive tax on the books. With governments placing the idea of instant wealth and immediate dream fulfillment right out there in front of us in the form of lotteries, it’s also a trap.
Studies have shown time and time again that those who lack wealth are the most likely to purchase lottery tickets. Thus, lotto spending eats away at potential disposable income and savings of those who need it most. Add in the long odds, and the lottery’s unofficial slogan — “A tax on stupid people” — is well deserved.
I don’t mean to completely break bad on the lottery. Despite the long odds, it does provide a source of much-needed property tax relief. Here in Wisconsin, estimates are the average property tax bill will see a credit of $96 this year because of the lottery. That is up from last year’s credit of $90.
That’s not exactly chump change in a state where the average property tax bill is in the area of $3,000 annually and every little bit helps.
So my advice to those feeling any form of loser’s letdown by “Lotto Fever,” is, if you are going to play, play smart and play according to what you can afford. If you wish to be a professional gambler, move to Vegas. The weather’s nicer, the odds are better, and there’s more skill involved than most state lottery games.
And play for fun. Because if you’re playing to win, odds are you’ve picked the wrong game.
Veteran political blogger Kevin Binversie is a Wisconsin native. He served in the George W. Bush administration from 2007-2009, worked at the Heritage Foundation and has worked on numerous state Republican campaigns, most recently as research director for Ron Johnson for Senate. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org