The destructive lottery

The Powerball lottery jackpot has reached unprecedented heights, in excess of $900,000,000 as of this past Saturday night. When the jackpot starts to get even one third of that amount, people start to lose their minds and spend ridiculous amounts of money in the vain hope to strike it rich. But while the eventual winner will be rich beyond his wildest dreams, many more will make foolish and sometimes extremely harmful financial decisions.

Lotteries have been a financial windfall for state governments, both the state lotteries and the multi-state games that reach absurdly high jackpots. But should we really be financing state governments on the backs of the poor? Should we be financing schools and roads by exploiting the dreams of people who are harming themselves? Back in 2001, Michelle Malkin reported that this was part of the Ohio Super Lotto’s marketing plan:

“Schedule heavier media weight during those times of the month where consumer disposable income peaks. … Government benefits, payroll and Social Security payments are released on the first Tuesday of each calendar month.”

Source: The Houston Chronicle.

It is one thing to have legalized gambling. It is something entirely different for state governments to avoid making the hard choices of raising taxes and/or cutting spending by shuffling the load of the budget onto those who make self-destructive decisions, especially when those are our most vulnerable citizens who often need help from the very governments their poor choices are financing. (Note that I do not have a problem with buying lottery tickets, if done responsibly.)

I have no expectation that this unprecedented jackpot will lead to states rethinking the lottery and the damage it does, but there is no question in my mind that rethinking the lottery needs to happen.

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