Also known as a tax on morons, the state lottery is a way to get more money for the government. Lotteries are normally passed with claims that all the money will go to education, but the money going to education allows the government to shift dollars to other functions. In a pinch the legislators may raid the lottery money directly. You are more likely to be hit by lightning than to win the lottery.

Lottery is often claimed to be "tax on stupid people", but a more careful analysis shows that to be a naive view.

The underlying assumption is that the lotto players would be better of if they invested their capital carefully, because in the long run that gives a higher payoff. However, people in the classes that play lotto are guaranteed to die well before the interest rates start to accumulate. Thus, the choice is between remaining poor and exploited the rest of your life, or an extremely small but positive probability of becoming wealthy. For people who are good at neither rapping nor boxing, lotto is the one way out of the ghetto - and perhaps a quite rational choice.

Of course, subjectively that probability is not so small, because we are constantly presented with lucky winners thorugh tabloids and television. The working class is therefore given an (admittedly illusionary) ladder to climb on, which defuses any revolutionary sentiments - lottery is a modern opiate of the masses. (The myth of social mobility through clever entrepreneurship, the American Dream, is maintained for similar reasons).

A better characterization would thus be "tax on poor and powerless people". The government monopoly seems quite cynical.

According to John Von Neumann's game theory, the best strategy for lottery is not to buy lottery. That maximizes your expected winnings, because it makes them zero, and with any other strategy they will be smaller than zero.

I know this isn't anything new, but it seems that some people just aren't able to understand that lottery is not a fair game. Another thing I usually tell them is: "I don't spend any money on the lottery and I get almost the same winning probability as you". But usually it doesn't work.

Lottery has always intrigued me. People play because they can "feel" the big money they could get but they cannot "feel" the small probability, for most people is not used to handle small real numbers. But I always wonder if a "reverse lotery" would also be successful: instead of paying for a ticket you get paid for getting it, and if you "win" you have to pay a couple of millions, or you get a debt for the rest of your life. If you take into account that most people don't use long-term thinking too much, maybe they would also play (you get short-term money for a long-term losing probability). What would be stronger, greed or fear?

Jorge Luis Borges writes about something like this in one of his "Fictions": a city in which lottery completely controls people's lives, it decides who is the governor or who must die. Quite surreal, but interesting.

It's like winning the Lottery, they say
except in reverse
It hardly ever happens, except when it does.

Four weeks became eight weeks became
a Doctor visit
confirming in words, what I already knew
below the waist

They say accidents happen for a reason,
but I don't see one
not yet

It's like winning the Lottery, they say
They say I'll be fine
but I always thought I would become a Mom
after the job, the house and a husband.

Lot"ter*y (?), n.; pl. Lotteries (#). [Lot + -ery, as in brewery, bindery.]


A scheme for the distribution of prizes by lot or chance; esp., a gaming scheme in which one or more tickets bearing particular numbers draw prizes, and the rest of tickets are blanks. Fig. : An affair of chance.

⇒ The laws of the United States and of most of the States make lotteries illegal.<-- except those conducted by the states themselves -->


Allotment; thing allotted.




© Webster 1913.

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