Bad luck of winning the lottery

December 7, 2012 10:02 am

It is bad enough that gamblers throw away tens of millions of dollars playing state-run lotteries. But it turns out that losing the lottery is often better than winning.

New York Times columnist Joe Nocera shined a light on the many problems that often follow winners of lottery jackpots. “People who suddenly fall into extreme wealth — whether because of an insurance settlement, a professional sports contract, or a lottery win — rarely know how to handle their new circumstances,” Nocera wrote. (See list of lottery winners turned losers here.)

This is the dirty secret that state lottery officials don’t discuss when getting winners to pose for pictures with the giant check. It is also an issue the media barely touches on compared with the hype that surrounds the coverage of large jackpots. Last March, this blog shined a similar light on troubles that often beset lottery winners.

But Nocera did a nice job of showing how the government is responsible for the lottery destruction. ”Lotteries may well be the single most insidious way that state governments raise money,” he wrote. ”Many of the people who buy lottery tickets are poor; lotteries are essentially a form of regressive taxation. The odds against winning a big jackpot are astronomical — far worse than the odds at an Atlantic City slot machine. The get-rich-quick marketing — by government, let’s not forget — is offensive. One New York Powerball ad shows a private jet emblazoned with the words “Kevin’s Airline.” The tag line reads: “Yeah, that kind of rich.”

NPR’s Marty Moss-Coane explored similar issues surrounding the lottery during her program on Thursday. Though her guests were very lame. Moss-Coane said she had problems with the government’s role in gambling. She is right. The government’s role is to protect its citizens not set up games of chance that exploit them. The bottom line is this: governments that get into the lottery and casino business are essentially betting against their citizens.

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