If you’re like me, your lottery experience begins and ends on your 18th birthday, when you buy a lottery ticket for the novelty and that. Sure, I see shiny scratch-off tickets displayed in warehouse windows and every now and then think how funny and easy my life would be if I suddenly won millions of dollars , but I never spent much time or effort. this. It seems like a waste.
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Of course this is far from the case for other people, who spend a decent chunk of their mental energy and savings on buying a lottery ticket. And a news story from last week made me wonder why this is. Is it really that popular? And is it really a “tax for the poor,” as some economists say?
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First of all, the story I read seems to have nothing to do with the lottery. It is about the annual Voodoo festival of death in Haiti, and explains how the tradition honors the deceased. But one small detail from the piece caught my attention: “A man pays a fortune teller for advice on how he can increase his chances of winning a bet in a Haitian gambling store of New York State Lottery numbers.”
This is interesting to me for two reasons. (1) That the Haitian store will even play New York State lottery numbers and (2) That people so desperate to win it will pay off mythical or religious leaders to increase their undoubted slim chance. But when I think about it, the popularity of the lotto makes perfect sense.
It makes sense that a country with deep poverty has people looking for a miracle. Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere, with 78% of Haitians living on less than $2 a day. The lack of basic resources and infrastructure is just a part of everyday life. In this context, it makes sense that people feel hopeless about their life situation, and they see the lottery as an escape route.
When I lived in the Dominican Republic for four months, I found that some cities have more lottery ticket stations than banks, drugstores and clothing stores. Small concrete buildings with brightly painted signs reading “Banca” – the word for betting parlor – dot every few blocks, and always attract large crowds. For some, buying a lottery ticket is part of the weekly routine. While some consider the practice to be just a voluntary recreational habit–after all, buying a lottery ticket doesn’t seem like such a bad thing–others argue that it can be a destructive cycle. . For example, one of my Dominican friends often complains that her mother wastes her wages on lottery tickets, hoping to “score big”, instead of saving a small part of the family’s money to spend on groceries and school supplies.
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While statistics on international lottery practices are limited, the US serves as an example that shows how popular, and harmful, the lottery can be.
In 2014, Americans spent a combined $70.1 billion on lottery tickets in the 43 states where the lottery is legal, more than Americans in all 50 countries spent on books, sporting events, tickets to movie, video games, and recorded music sales combined. This is a staggering amount, and crazy when you think about all the other things that money can do.
And the statistics make it all the more problematic when you consider that the bottom third of households buy more than half of all lottery tickets, and that Americans who earn $13,000 or less per year spend 9% of their income on lottery tickets every year. . This means that people who need more money are the most likely to spend the little they have on a small opportunity to win big.
Many people are trying to understand why people are less willing to waste their money on the lottery. A study found that while local lottery sales increased with poverty, movie ticket sales did not, which seems to indicate that people not only view the lottery as cheap entertainment, but also as a you pray to escape from poverty.
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This becomes a vicious cycle: poor people buy lottery tickets, lose money, panic about their finances and buy more tickets in the hope of losing. Viewed from this angle, the government is taking advantage of low income and addicted lottery players. Ohio once even created a marketing plan with lottery ads to run at the same time as government benefits because research suggests that welfare receipts and lottery games are closely connected. This is even more outrageous when you consider that in 2009 the lottery provided more revenue than corporate income tax in 11 states, which basically means that low-income lottery players shoulder more than their state costs rather than corporations.
“In an era of rising income inequality, it is dangerous that countries rely on monetizing the desperate hopes for the poorest citizens. The game will not suddenly enrich our poor communities. But this neighborhood has lost enough lotteries in life even before they touch a penny on a scratch-off ticket.
Possibly more damaging than the negative financial impact of buying lottery tickets is the psychological impact. A report from PBS found that the cumulative psychological effect of buying a lottery ticket and hoping to win, then lose, over and over again, is debilitating. Especially when time and energy can be focused on a smaller but more feasible and meaningful scale.
So, if the evidence shows that the lottery preys on those who most need more resources and financial opportunity, why aren’t more people trying to do the same? Why is the lottery a relatively acceptable part of society?
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Well, like all things, there is another side to the story: what drives lottery ticket sales. There are many examples of lottery sales being used well, and raising money for services and projects without funding.
For example, in the US 44 states rely on revenue from lottery ticket sales, mostly to fund public education.
In the small fishing village of Inverness, Canada, a new “Chase the Ace” lottery began raising money for the community center and became a force in its own right, attracting unprecedented numbers. of visitors to the town that boosts its economy and morale. .
In the UK there is a website called “Your National Lottery Good Causes”, where you can choose which organization sells your lottery ticket. To date, the National Lottery has successfully awarded $34 billion dollars for more than 450,000 different projects, from services for the mentally disabled to urban gardening projects and underprivileged youth. .
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The lottery concept is so global and so popular, it doesn’t seem like it’s going anywhere anytime soon.
So the question becomes, how can the world stop the lottery from harming the most vulnerable? Of course the existence of the main centers of gambling addiction, but if you zoom out and look at the bigger picture, it becomes clear that if the poor have more opportunities for economic success and if they feel they have a chance to actively raise themselves from. poverty, the sale of lotto tickets will decrease. When people feel more ownership of their economic situation they are less prone to despair, a lotto-ticket-can-make-all-my-problems-go-away mentality. Basically, feel that there is a point to gradually save your salary and make daily changes. Feel that there is another, more realistic, way out.
Quality education, adequate health services, reliable state institutions and the availability of necessary resources – these are the basic elements that people need to free themselves from poverty. This is the kind of opportunity and infrastructure that can help someone in Haiti or Ohio envision a positive future that doesn’t involve a 1 in 175 million chance.
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