Have you ever purchased a lottery ticket? When? Where? Quite honestly, what were you thinking at that moment?
In my humble opinion, U.S. state lotteries are poisonous for peoples’ financial health. The earliest lottery-like activities are traced back to the colonial Massachusetts-Bay Colony, where the tired and leisurely gambled their during down-time. It apparently a harmless distraction. Fast-forward to the 21st century and throwing wooden dice and dealing dusty cards has transformed into some of our most cruel vices: gambling in smokey casinos and buying cheap lottery tickets.
Here are some statistics to help carry my point with more weight. In South Carolina, people in households earnings below $40,000 accounted for 28% of the population in 2009, but made up 54% of frequent lottery players. In the same year, the highest concentration of lottery revenues in Connecticut came from the poorest cities, including new Haven, Hartford and Bridgeport. Moreover, roughly 20% of callers to the 1-800-GAMBLER national hotline reportedly had trouble controlling spending on lottery tickets. Most disheartening, a 1994 study from Indiana University found that from 1983 to 1991, lottery sales tended to rise with unemployment rates. This trend occurs because recessionary economic conditions demand lower costs for companies, inducing a wave of layoffs for low-skilled, low-income workers. These workers, many of whom file for unemployment insurance and some become discouraged workers,” tend to buy lottery tickets in desperation.
Today, 44 states operate lotteries responsible for luring low-income individuals to regularly spend considerable portions of their income on tickets. The system is simply a regressive tax on poor people, because the cost of purchasing a lottery ticket consumes a much larger amount of their paycheck compared with a wealthier person. In other words, they prey on those that can least afford them. Most lottery ticket buyers are not one-time buyers either. In a 2011 study conducted by the University of Houston analyzing the demographics of lottery ticket customers, over 60% of respondents that purchased Pick 3 Day tickets purchased them either weekly or monthly. Thus, lottery ticket buying is a not a one-stop-shop situation, but a habitual process that plays on the psychology and wavering moods of individuals.
Proponents for state lotteries, like legislators and small business owners who benefit from steady sales, advocate that the lottery revenues are used to build and improve public school systems. However, recent studies suggest that only partial amounts of lottery revenues fix state budgets, but do not allocate any extra resources to education. Even if we capitalized educational systems with lotteries, aren’t we just dismissing poor peoples’ need for more responsible living and hoping that future generations will be more educated? Educated enough not to… well, you get my point.
Scratch-off tickets are shiny and elusive. In the bland convenience stores that inundate blue-collar neighborhoods, the 7-Elevens and Wawas of America, lottery tickets are the holographic pieces of paper that dangle behind the clerk counters. For the tired, poor, minimum-wage earner who drops by for a soda and butterscotch Krimpet cake, they sure hold a lot of mystique.
My proposal? Abolish the lottery system. Eliminate another economic black hole.