A Tax On Stupidity? (I'll Be Bankruptided!)
by Richard Wallace
Here in the Great State of North Carolina we have the lottery, after many years of fervent debate. It only took some slightly illegal finagling and we got scratch 'n toss tickets last year. We've been a member of Powerball for some number of months, I couldn't really tell you, but we've already had a winner or two. A lot of people consider playing the lottery a tax on the stupid, but I'm not so sure. Like so many things in life, it isn't that clear cut. For me, it depends on how you go about it, what your intentions are when you make your purchase. Just for the record, I purchased 5 $1 scratch-off tickets the week the thing started. I did this simply so I could tell people that I played, was completely and utterly thrilled by the experience, and have now retired as nobody should enjoy anything that much. I have yet to take my chances on the big money of the Powerball, but I'm pretty sure that's where my fortune lies. I think I'll get a feeling about it the week I'm supposed to play, so I'm just wasting my money on food and shelter and such for now.
As I started to type a minute ago, it depends on what you think you're doing if it's really a tax on your stupidity or not. I see people buy the scratchie tickets with a top prize of $10,000, (or whatever it is, can't be much more than that), and I wonder what exactly they could be thinking. Here in NC it is called the 'Education Lottery', like a lot of other states, the proceeds beyond maintaining the process and doling out the winnings are supposedly going to our public school system. So, if you throw money into the cheap thrill of a possible big payday, knowing there is little chance you are going to win, you can console yourself (or justify the expenditure) with the fact that it is helping fund our educational system. If enough people play, perhaps the next generation will be smart enough to not play the lottery. That would be waaay cool ironic, for the lottery to go out of business because its very reason for existence had made it obsolete. Mission Accomplished.
Let me try one more time to make that point about intentions and stupidity. If I, myself, were to purchase a lottery ticket for the implied educational benefit and the cheap thrill of a few moments imaginings - I'm gonna be playing Powerball. Throwing away a dollar to imagine winning 10 grand won't fill my thrills; I want to dream of never going back to work, telling them to donate my last paycheck to somewhere the sun doesn't shine. So when I see people contributing a dollar to scratchitz, where the top prize is 2 or 3 figures less than the Lotto, I just don't get it. I couldn't even take time off from work for 10k, well maybe a week or three. I think these people are trying to be clever, which is where the tax on stupidity comes in. If you think your odds are a lot better of winning the smaller scratchetty prize, you are mathematically correct, but you're also kind of stupid. Once you've put that much thought into it you aren't thrill-seeking, you're gambling. Not just gambling, which can be a fine art; but blind luck gambling, suckling at the teat of better odds and getting nothing but air. And that's the point I think I wanted to make. If you play the lottery as if it's gambling - you're an idiot. If you think of it as any other raffle-type deal, a donation to a cause for a random chance dream that won't come true; you might still be an idiot, but not because of that.
The great debate that kept NC from having a lottery for many years was that a lot of people consider gambling immoral and, of course, a tax on the stupid. Gambling can be a beautiful thing, but true gambling shouldn't be lumped in with random draw crap like scratcheez and Powerball. Gambling is poker, black-jack, dog and horse racing, professional wrestling. Risking your hard-earned kablinky thinking, hoping, praying that you have the edge over your opponent. True gambling involves some level of skill with all the luck, but neither of the lottery games has that. If you think that you are playing the lottery skillfully, well, here's your
Just to give you a little insight into how that tiny fragment that functions as my mind works, what got me thinking about the lottery was the introduction of a new, improved, better odds, $20 ticket game here in NC. I can't make this stuff up; if I could I'd have a book deal by now.
Posted by: Richard Wallace | May 17, 2007 5:20 AM
The people who work in my cubicle farm are obsessed with the lottery. Not just the lotto tickets, but the scratch offs, too. They must spend about 5 hours of the workday talking about and another hour pooling money together to run across the street to buy more tickets.
I'm going to start keeping track of how much they spend v. how much they win. How can you get excited about winning 50 dollars when you spent about 300 this week alone on losing tickets?
Posted by: michele | May 17, 2007 6:37 AM
I love scratch offs. It's fun sitting with the girlfriend, scratching, drinking beer. We don't go out and blow fifty bucks on tickets every day, but it's fun to spend a little once a week. About two weeks ago, we won $300--the most I've ever won.
But do I think there's a strategy? No. It's just fun, the money goes to a good cause, and since I don't have kids, I relish the fact that I can blow money on shit like this without thinking, "Man, this could pay for a shoelace in the little guy's soccer cleats."
Posted by: Uber | May 17, 2007 12:20 PM