The Maneater

Column: Jackpots soar, but the lottery exploits the most vulnerable Americans.

Despite most of the revenue going towards educated Americans, governments target the lottery at the poor and uneducated.

Bryce Kolk is a freshman journalism major at MU. He is an opinion columnist who writes about politics for The Maneater.

Lottery tickets are a bad investment. They may easily be the worst investment one could make.

The payoff sure is tempting, though.

The second largest lottery jackpot in U.S. history was won last week, netting one South Carolina ticket holder $1.537 billion. Maybe next time, that could be you.

But it won’t be.

The odds that anyone reading this will ever win that kind of jackpot are astronomical. I feel fairly comfortable saying this; you will never win $1.5 billion overnight. Sorry for being such a downer.

Some may argue that the lottery serves some greater purpose, however. Those who play are funding education, they might say. So what’s the harm?

It’s true. The lottery funds education. In Missouri, as in many other states, a portion of every ticket sold goes to education. But there are better ways to do it: namely, taxes.

A large portion of state and local taxes already go to funding education. The lottery accounts for just four percent of state education revenue in Missouri.

Lotteries also spend money on advertising. About $6 billion are spent on lottery administration costs every year, including advertising, according to the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries. Taxes don’t need to advertise.

The lottery could be thought of as a tax, and an unequal one at that. Governments tend to favor lotteries because they’re a tax that people volunteer to pay. While richer Americans pay a higher income tax rate, they pay far less into the lottery. Uneducated Americans buy tickets at higher rates than educated Americans, though the tax benefits aid educated Americans.

In an average week, 28 percent of Americans earning less than $30,000 a year played the lottery at least once, according to a survey by Bankrate. Those Americans spent $412 a year on the lottery, about four times the amount spent by those earning $75,000 or more.

Americans earning less than $10,000 a year spent an average of $597 on lottery tickets in a year, or about 6 percent of their total income. The poorer the American, the more they play the lottery.

Lotteries market to poorer neighborhoods more aggressively. They pitch an image of a quick, simple escape from poverty. Most states saw a rise in lottery sales during the Great Recession.

The government-sanctioned lottery preys on the desperation and hope of the most vulnerable.

Playing the lottery is also gambling, and can lead to addiction. There are clear parallels with drug addiction. The difference is that drug addiction is not state-sponsored.

So, what’s the solution?

While an all out ban may be extreme, the government should not be encouraging gambling abuse. At the very least, state-sponsored lotteries should be reformed.

Rather than funding unrelated education initiatives, lottery revenue could be used on awareness campaigns into gambling addiction.

Some governments are experimenting with a system based on savings accounts. Essentially, the more money in one’s account, the higher odds they’ll win. Not only does this discourage spending income on lottery tickets, but it also provides an incentive for people to save for the future. These systems are available through credit unions in some states, but are illegal in Missouri.

Lotteries may be a form of entertainment to some, but they are designed to be predatory.

What can be recreation to some can be financially ruinous to others.

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