The Powerball lottery has dominated the news lately, as the jackpot is estimated to reach a record breaking $1.3 billion by Wednesday. As the jackpot grows, more and more people are buying tickets, dreaming about what they would do with a billion dollars. While the lottery can be fun, it is also a representation of the problems that come with government. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, state revenues from lottery tickets totaled $77.3 billion as of 2008. Lottery ticket sales tend to be concentrated in poor neighborhoods, with those in the poorest fifth in terms of socioeconomic status playing the lottery at a much higher rate than anyone else. Considering the fact that people have a much higher chance of getting struck by lightning or dying in a plane crash than they do of winning a multimillion jackpot in the lottery, it might seem crazy that those with the lowest income spend the most on lottery tickets. However, the possibility of winning the lottery provides the poorest Americans with hope – hope that they can crawl their way out of poverty simply by purchasing a $2 lottery ticket.
The amount of money that the government makes off of exploiting the hopes and dreams of the poorest Americans represents a much bigger problem that comes with government. In the vast majority of states in the U.S., it is technically illegal to bet on sports. Even seemingly harmless fun, such as March Madness office pools or betting your friend $20 on the Super Bowl, is illegal. What this blatant hypocrisy tells me is that gambling – to the point of pure exploitation of poor Americans – is perfectly acceptable if the government is involved and making massive sums of money off it.
The reality of the lottery is that lotteries fund the growth of state budgets by taking hundreds of millions of dollars from the pockets of the poor and the working class, who are so desperate, they are willing to spend any extra money on something that they will most likely never win. It is worth mentioning that many of these people are poor because of state intervention in the first place.
The only winner in the lottery is the government, and the government doesn’t want competition, so it continues to capitalize on the hopes and dreams of the poor while it simultaneously declares any gambling in the private sector as criminal behavior.While participating in the lottery is completely voluntary, and the poorest Americans are choosing to spend their extra money on lottery tickets, the government does have a major incentive to promote such a detrimental activity.
When state governments become dependent on the revenue that lotteries generate, they have an incentive to promote it, even though their own citizens are suffering. State governments are dependent on those who are so desperate that they are willing to spend hundreds of dollars playing a game that they will never win. I find it incredibly interesting that big government advocates, who claim to care so much about the poor, are silent as the government literally makes money off of exploiting the poor. The deafening silence of big government supporters on this issue leads me to believe that they don’t really care about the poor at all, except when it fits their agenda.
While I do have issues with the lottery and the blatant hypocrisy of the government, I will always believe in the freedom to choose. I do not support more laws, regulations, or bans – and I do not believe that the lottery should be illegal. If you want to play the lottery, I believe that you should have that right. However, keep in mind that by playing, you are assisting the government in its absurdly hypocritical quest to make massive sums of money off of citizens while criminalizing any competition in the private sector. The lottery is a great example of government at work – and the problems that come with it.
An earlier version of this article appeared at http://futurefemaleleader.com/the-problem-with-the-powerball-and-other-lotteries/