44 states in the U.S.A. have government-run lotteries. Nevada doesn’t, but that’s only because the owners of the casinos in Las Vegas lobbied/bribed their politicians not to host a lottery so they wouldn’t have to compete with it. Across the nation, government-run lotteries are raking in $70 billion per year.
On average, America’s lotteries pay out about 50% of their earnings directly to lottery winners. Of the remaining amount, they spend about 5% on advertising and administrative costs (including lavish executive salaries). The rest goes to funding the state’s budget. Exactly how that money is allocated differs from state to state. Most say it “supports education,” but that claim is often misleading. States have been criticized for not spending enough of education, but even when the money is put in the general state fund, it still ends up trickling down into programs people rely on. If the lottery were eliminated, the general population would feel the hurt as thousands of social services disappear.
State governments have come to rely on lottery winnings to fund significant portions of their budgets. This makes it imperative that people keep buying tickets. Many Americans are fine with this, because they view the lottery as a tax on stupid people who are probably lazy ghetto bums who are leeching off the system and not paying their fair share of taxes anyway. But the Lottery Commissions’ marketing departments know exactly who their target audience is. 70%-80% of tickets are purchased by 10% of the buyers. So the lottery isn’t a tax on stupid people, so much as it’s a tax on the mentally ill.
Granted, there are millions of non-addicts who live below the poverty line and spend way too much money on lottery tickets, which is blatantly irresponsible. It’s such an obviously illogical thing to do, it fits the definition of stupid, but if you’re disgusted by the stupidity of compulsive lottery ticket buyers, you should be more disgusted by government officials who decided to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on commercials and flashy lottery tickets to convince impressionable fools into cutting their own throat and then selling them the knife.
The situation is grimmer than that though because lottery officials aren’t preying on people’s stupidity as much as they’re preying on their fear. Poor people don’t buy lottery tickets because they’re completely oblivious to how it’s negatively affecting their lives. They know better than anyone, and yet they keep spending their potential retirement savings, and even their grocery money, on lottery tickets. The reason the cost/benefit analysis adds up in poor people’s heads isn’t because they’re stupid and can’t do the math. They’ve done the math, and they’ve correctly deduced that they’re never going to earn more than $50,000 per year in their life, which isn’t enough to retire on. Even if they did cut costs and save every penny, medical bills will wipe out their retirement eventually anyway.
And poor people know they have a lot of medical bills in store for them because they spent their entire lives working demeaning, grueling low-wage jobs, and the only food they’ve ever eaten is cheap, processed gunk. They haven’t been able to afford to see a doctor most of their life. So they haven’t had any preventative screenings or treatments, which is just as well, because the sooner they die, the sooner they can finally quit working at the jobs that ground their bodies and souls into dust. Their lives are shit, and their retirement plan is death. When your retirement plan is death, the cost/benefit analysis of risking your retirement money on a one in a billion bet adds up. To poor people trapped in a lifetime of wage slavery, the lottery is a tax on hopelessness, and lottery executives know this.
State-run lotteries are a microcosm of the American government at large. The government determines how the economy works. The economy is designed to take all the poor, unskilled workers’ money while also making it absurdly difficult for small businesses to grow, hire more workers and pay better wages. So everyone has to work overtime just to keep their head above water. Then, the government spends tax payer’s money convincing Americans their dreams are right around the corner, and all they have to do to win is play a game they’re set up to lose. Then the spotlight is put on the minority who do win, and all the losers are told they’re stupid for failing.
The most absurd part of this whole situation is how easy it would be to solve all these problems. America could build apartment units for every homeless person in America or feed the entire population twice over with the $70 billion they make off lottery sales. If America diverted half the money it spent on either The War on Terror or The War on Drugs, every citizen could have all the necessities of life guaranteed without having to raise anyone’s taxes or adopting Communism.
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