Blue Ridge Journal
Archives
BRJ Front Page See all Essays Send a Comment
 

"Lotto"        (State Lottery)

                     A tax on the poor and the ignorant

February 2005

Abstract:
One of the greatest deceptions by our government against the people is "Lotto":
A tax on people who don't understand statistics!
Most states in the US prohibit gambling. The reason for these ancient prohibitions is consistent across the states: Gambling is habit-forming; gambling is addictive, and the image of a father gambling away the family farm was a convincing argument for early lawmakers. There was probably no lawmaker at the time who was not personally familiar with just such cases. And why did father gamble? Several reasons, leading to disaster:  First, poker play was just the way it was at the local watering hole. You either did what the rest of the men did – you gambled – or you were an outcast.  Second, gambling truly is addictive. If you're winning, you continue because you're on a winning streak;  if you're losing you continue because your bad luck must change. You can't quit now!  Third, economic desperation led many to hope against hope that in the poker hand there was at least a chance for salvation;  they felt they had no chance without Lady Luck.

The State of Nevada – not bothered by the moral compunctions that affected other states – decided rightly that there was a lot of money to be made from gambling. Casinos were built – indeed encouraged – all over the state. Decades later, New Jersey made the same discovery. Then Indian tribes discovered that they were not bound by State anti-gambling laws, and new unheard-of tribes began to pop up like toadstools, building gambling casinos on every available lot. Finally the rest of the States, feeling they were missing out on all this gambling largesse, began to operate numbers rackets called State Lotteries – or "Lotto" – to improve their budgets. The typical argument for approval of a State Lotto was that a portion of the State take would go to Education. And surely no citizen could be against improved funding for Education!  (Never mind that a very generous portion of the take would go to the private company running the Lotto scheme.)

So we have the situation where, in the last couple of decades, States that have clear laws against gambling on the grounds that it is addictive and socially damaging aggressively promote their State lottery, in order to encourage their citizens to gamble.

Well, just who gambles on Lotto?  Is there a class or social stratum that's dominant among Lotto ticket buyers?  There certainly is.  As with the poker players of the frontier days, the bulk of lottery ticket buyers are those who most need a financial miracle. They are citizens in financial difficulty. They are those who can least afford to gamble. They are those who should be putting every penny away for groceries, rent, and an uncertain future. These are the ones to whom the State is directing its advertising: "Buy Lotto tickets and hit it rich!"

I had the dubious pleasure of experiencing the California State Lottery when it began. The odds against winning the grand prize were 14 million to one, something the Lottery was careful not to mention in their ads. After a few years these odds were found to be insufficiently in favor of the State, and they were raised to 18 million to one. Amazingly, hardly anyone noticed. (The required number matches was quietly raised from five to six, while the grand prize was increased somewhat. The latter fact pulled in additional gamblers; the former had no effect.)  Unfortunately the education of our citizens is so deficient that most were unable to detect that they were being taken for a ride by their government.

The State Lottery has been called  "a tax on people who don't understand statistics."  It truly is that;  it's a tax on the undereducated. So why should our State Legislatures pass a special tax on the undereducated?  I can only guess it's because 1) they're easy prey, and 2) they don't realize they're being taxed. The legislature, like a card room hustler, convinces the "hick" that here's easy money to be made. The innocent pays up, buys perhaps a dozen tickets, and prays to his God that this time the miracle must occur, so they can pay the rent.

The miracle doesn't occur, of course. Instead the Legislature's accountants gleefully rub their hands:  The Lottery sale went well. The poor paid up. The budget deficit gets reduced.

The State Lotteries are nothing but government scams, they're sneak taxes on the poor. The politicians tell us,  "It's not a tax. It's voluntary."  The immorality of that lie is monstrous. And the move toward fair taxation should start with elimination of the Great State Scam, aka "Lotto."

© 2005 H. Paul Lillebo

BRJ Front Page See all Essays Send a Comment