Don’t Play the Lottery May 18, 2011

Don’t Play the Lottery

It’s like your Statistics teacher (should have) told you: “The lottery is a tax on dumb people.” Or some variation of that 🙂

(via Pearls Before Swine)

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  • Tam Hunter

    I lost again but then I know my chances are miniscule

  • Derek

    Not to be nit picky here, but the lottery is actually the better deal when you analyze it the right way. You can either give money to the schools and get nothing in return, or give money to the schools and have a chance at winning $100,000,000. 😛

  • Old Fogey

    The UK also has a National Lottery, with pretty abysmal chances of winning.

    Yet most weeks my wife and I buy one £1 ticket between us.

    Why, when there is so little chance of winning? Simply because when we see a nice house, or a pretty boat, or some such desirable and expensive thing, we can say “when we win the Lottery….” and just put that edge of possibility on what would be otherwise just a pointless fantasy.

    Quite cheap entertainment really.

  • Jon Peterson

    Derek: The only problem with that is your use of “either”. A corrected statement follows.

    You can either give money to the schools and get nothing in return, or and also give money to the schools and have a chance at winning $100,000,000


  • First off, the atheists among us who frequently debate Christians and other theists about things like evolution and abiogenesis need to make the distinction between impossible and improbable. It’s not impossible to win the lottery; it’s highly improbable.

    Second, spending $1 or $2 a day is hardly that much of a risk for the chance of winning a few thousand or million dollars. Plus, it’s worth it for the fun and anticipation of hearing the numbers and knowing that others have won it before, and there’s a chance, no matter how small, that you or I could win it.

  • I had a Statistics professor in college who would periodically come to class and sigh, “Well, I didn’t win the lottery this week.” Inevitably, someone would ask him how many tickets he’d bought and he’d say, “None. The odds of winning are almost identical.”

    Yeah, he was kind of a buzzkill….

  • Amyable Atheist

    Exactly. Funny, this just came up at work today. AGAIN. A coworker started an office pool and let’s just say his area of expertise SHOULD equip him with superior math skill to mine. It gets harder to bite my tongue every time an e-mail goes around and today, cranky from lack of sleep due to a miserable field assignment, I snapped at my teammate/work friend when she said she was going to contribute. After loudly stifling laughter and saying I was biting my tongue, I lost it and volunteered to stuff her dollar down a storm drain for her. Luckily, she took it well. :\

    I have a theory on what strikes me as an obvious connection between the lottery and religious faith -> both focus on the fantasy of being taken care of/divinely happy at some fuzzy point in the future. Only the former offers better odds than the latter, and that’s only example where the odds on the lottery are actually the better deal!

  • Fenrir

    I lol’d. A few days ago, a website (in Spanish) posted the odds of winning this Lottery called EuroMillions before and after they did some changes in the game. Those numbers are surely depressing :I

  • Robert Thille

    I’m just waiting to find a winning lotto ticket. I figure the odds are about the same as buying one…

  • I usually say ‘Gambling is a tax on people with poor math skills.’

  • Lauren S.

    Most people who buy lotto tickets don’t have an opportunity to take a statistics class. It is a tax on ignorance that the country itself perpetuates.

    Read Robert Moses’ Radical Equations to learn a bit more about the history of selectively denying education to specific populations in the US. He directly addresses the issues of racism in the south, but there are many class divides which also contribute to this.

  • Statistically, the odds would be against a relative winning either. But one of my cousins won millions. However, I don’t buy lottery tickets in spite of this coincidence.

  • Jamssx

    LOL but the states are nothing compared to PCH

    Est. Odds of Winning
    $1,OOO,OOO.OO 1 in 1,75O,OOO,OOO

    “Now them some odds”

  • Vivian

    Playing the lotto and NOT winning is better than reading this obnoxious comment thread. What a bunch of pompous downers.

  • bigjohn756

    Texas was offered a lotto in lieu of a State income tax. I play the lottery a few times a year just to do my part in insuring that it remains successful. Voluntarily paying out a few bucks seems to me to be a better deal than the certainty of being robbed of hundreds every year with no chance at all of any return.

  • Elaine

    I agree with Vivian. I’m glad to hear how superior all the people who don’t buy lotto tickets are to those of us who do sometimes. *golf clap for your awesomely superior math genius brains* Most people who buy tickets know they’re highly unlikely to ever win it. A dollar every few weeks doesn’t hurt me any. Half of it goes to make some lucky person rich, and the other half goes to the parks in my state. I use the parks, and I’m glad they’re so well-funded.

  • Oddly fitting that you post this today. Just read this article a few hours ago about a 59-year-old Michigan man who won $2M in the lottery, the money’s in the bank, but is still able to receive (and has no issues with receiving) food stamps.

    Link goes to Yahoo! News article here.

  • Richard P.

    The majority of the lotto funds in Canada go to education and sport projects. At least those funds that don’t get swindled.

    I get to support these programs and get the chance at a big win.

    I can also use it as my retirement plan, giving me a great excuse to spend frivolously now.
    Really, it’s a win win all around.

  • Revyloution

    Im with the ‘I know I won’t win, but its fun to dream.’ and the ‘It’s like a voluntary contribution to schools’ group.

    It’s fun to sit and dream about what I would do with millions (start a Camp Quest group in my community!) but it’s also nice to give a few extra dollars to support the great programs that our Lotto supports here.

    Funny thing, Lotto is the only gambling I do. I see no pleasure in enriching the billionaires who run Las Vegas.

  • captsam

    I don’t have to think about it, Hawaii doesn’t have a lottery.

  • Pustulio

    The problem with the lottery is that the people who play the most are the same people who can least afford to. Also, anyone who thinks that the lottery somehow raises money for education is deluding themselves. If the lottery raises $x, the polititions say “now we can divert $x from the education budget to pay for our pet projects.” It’s nothing but a shell game with the end result being that not one extra dime goes to fund education.

  • A few years ago when I was in line to buy lottery tickets another person in line buying bus tickets said to me:

    “You know, if you took that fifteen dollars a week you spend on lottery tickets and put it in the bank, by the time you retired at 65 you’d have over a million dollars!”

    I turned around, gave him a pensive look and threw him this:

    You’re right, I would have over a million dollars.

    After working a job I hate for 35 years because no one will pay me to do what I enjoy doing in my free time.

    And even if I could do the things I enjoy doing in my free time it would quickly become work, I’d start to hate it and then spend the rest of my life hating something I used to love and be stuck with no hobbies when I finally retire.

    Not that I could actually enjoy my hobbies in retirement because the powers of inflation will make that million I’ve saved have the same spending power as 250,000 does now.

    And this is all assuming I don’t die in some horrible accident first.

    Or I can spend fifteen bucks right now and have the chance to win big, retire before any sense of happiness I have left is utterly crushed from working a crappy job I hate, and have the power to stop doing something boring when I get bored of it and not be forced to continue lest I be fired for not doing my job.

    I know I’m not going to win and if I do it’ll be when I’m ninety five… in the old age home… on life support. Hell, I probably won’t win even then.

    I’m not playing because I expect to win, I’m playing because the law of probability says that someone has to win eventually and for a measly fifteen bucks a week I’ll take the chance the random chaotic forces of nature will allow the tumbling, number adorned, balls to pop out of the machine in the correct sequence to allow my ticket to win so that I might retire early and enjoy the rest of my life doing what I want to do when I want to do it.

    And not be forced to work a job I hate for the next thirty five years doing something I hate just because I need the money to keep a roof over my head.

    Guy looked at me with his mouth all agape, utterly speechless, and when he got to the front of the line he bought a lottery ticket. 😀


  • KPL

    At least in New York State, most of the funds from the lottery go to prizes; the next is for education. That is unless the audited annual report is fabricated…

  • The way I look at it is I only buy 3 or 4 lottery tickets a year (annual cost of 3 or 4 dollars) and I only buy them when the lottery is well over 100,000,000. Then I pray that I won’t win because if I did, it would probably destroy my life. I’m kidding, I really don’t pray, but I do have mixed emotions about wining. I did win $3 once. 🙂

  • Nathan

    An economist once commented that the problem with funding public schools through the lottery is that if gives the schools a perverse incentive to not teach the math and reasoning skills that would lead students to avoid playing the lottery.

  • Melanie

    That’s funny because I just bought a ticket today. I have mixed feelings about the lottery…

    – If you are doing it as a cheap thrill occasionally (as I do maybe once a month so $12/year) then it’s not really a big deal in my opinion.I know I’m most likely not going to win but people do win the lottery and those people had to buy a ticket to do so. If I lose it’s just a dollar and if I win then I’d be glad I chose to spend that dollar. I’d like you to tell a person who has actually won that their ticket was a waste of money, they’ll be too busy laughing and rolling in their cash to listen to you.

    – On the other hand there are people who take the lottery too seriously. People who buy multiple tickets especially when they can’t afford it or think of it as an investment have a problem. These are the people that don’t have a handle on math and their delusions could be affecting their lives.

  • Derek

    @Jon Peterson

    Fair enough. Haha. I look at the lottery as a daydreamer’s tax. I gave up daydreaming about heaven a long time ago. I figure at least the lottery has better odds. Besides, if I ever beat the odds and win that means I can give more than just the odd $20 or $30 to Freedom From Religion and the Secular Student Alliance. Of course, I could also not play the lottery and give them that money, but you’ve got to be a selfish prick somewhere along the line. 😛

  • Dustin

    One would expect someone who knows statistics to be able to tell the difference between no chance of winning and a chance of winning that’s simply enormously unlikely.

    I spend $4 a week on the Powerball. Why? Because I can either buy myself a good cup of coffee for that price or buy a chance to never have to worry about money again. No matter how small the odds a cost of $4/week simply makes the price to potential gain ratio too high for me not to play.

    Do I expect to win? Hardly, though it’s fun to dream. Truth be told if I did win I’d probably have a panic induced heart attack on the spot.

  • Catherine

    If there is a large jackpot everyone in my office throws in a few dollars. Sure, we’ll never win, but I’d hate to be the only one coming to work the next day if the unthinkable happens.

    Parents of a girl I went to school with picked up $30 million about 10 years ago. I, on the other hand, have won about $30 all up.

    I like WCLPeter’s comment. I certainly don’t use anything more than pocket change to buy tickets, but the lovely daydreams I have about what I’d do if I won is worth ~$10/year stupid tax to me.

  • keddaw

    I love all these math geniuses who state that the lotto is a tax on people who can’t do math and then go buy car/fire/health/life insurance.

    Or who don’t play it when it is a large roll-over despite it being a net positive to do so.

  • I buy one ticket. My chances of winning are tiny and they aren’t significantly increased by buying more. I can afford to waste a quid every week, it doesn’t hurt anyone and I’m hopeful enough to risk the chance.

  • Buy the ticket, take the ride. You take nothing away from riding a rollercoaster, yet I have seen people pay $50.00 for the chance to ride the newest and fastest coasters. Thrill is thrill. My Thrill is to pay a couple of bucks a month for the potential privilege to tell every person that feels they have a right to my time, that the line is long, starts behind me, and that they should all pucker up…

  • Min

    Man… I’m amazed at some of the excuses people come up with to justify why they’re throwing away they’re money.

    When I want to donate money to a park, I just donate it straight to the park. When I want to make more money, I invest it. When I want to experience a thrill or have some fun, I’ll go visit an amusement park or buy a new video game.

    Even if you only throw away a dollar a week, after a few years that’ll add up to hundreds of dollars. Would you still be comfortable paying a hundred dollars for a one-in-ten-million chance of winning?

  • mingfrommongo

    Occasionally, the Mega Millions jackpot gets above $176 million (odds against winning are roughly 175 million:1). On those occasions, it’s the stupid man who doesn’t play.

    I sometimes throw a dollar down because the randomness of the universe has caused weirder things to happen than my hitting the lottery. It’s worth a buck now and then just to reinforce a bit of optimism. But why would a Xian ever play? If it’s part of the divine plan that one should be a millionaire, why didn’t Jehovah give that one the skills to earn a million?

  • martin

    Not really keen on the term “tax on dumb people”

    I play the lottery, I know my chances of winning are lower than my chances of a cure for baldness in my lifetime, but I still play. I know its just money going to the state, and so what, I am fine paying taxes. Taxes are what keep this country from being a third world, or a theocracy. All of the anti-tax rhetoric is bull. The minute people stopped paying taxes, everyone would be begging for the government to step back in and would be throwing all their money at it.
    Some selfish people aren’t willing to fork over their precious extra money, wanting to keep it locked away, so the country has to find ways to pay for all the access, and I am fine helping to donate to that, and the odd chance of winning on the side doesn’t hurt.

  • keddaw

    Given my current situation my expected utility of winning £7 million extra is more than 7 million times the utility of having £1 extra.

    Seems logical that I should play the lottery.

  • Ben

    Let’s not tax stupid people. Let’s just stop giving them tax breaks.

    Tax hell out of the churches!!!

  • mox

    Wow, this is timely. The other day, a co-worker said the same thing. “The lottery is just a tax on people too stupid to do math.” He then sipped smugly on his $5 Starbucks latte.

    How presumptuous this argument is. Based on that argument, restaurants are a tax on people too stupid to cook. iPods are a tax on people who are too stupid to learn how to sing or play a musical instrument. Computer games are a tax on people too stupid to entertain themselves. Religion is a tax on people too stupid to think on their own. (ok…that last one is actually true.)

    I think I’d rather see people spend $5 on lottery tickets to help their state than buy an overpriced latte at Starbucks that benefits nobody except Starbucks and its shareholders.

  • I was going to say the same as Lauren S.

    My dad used to call the lottery “a tax on stupid people”, and maybe I’d be OK with that if everybody had the same access to a decent education.

  • walkamungus

    If the Rapture happens this Saturday before the Powerball drawing, does the winning ticket (if there is one) get Raptured too, if a Christian bought it? Because that would really suck.

  • Tom

    Sure, it’s fun to dream, but I can get a different dream every night for free. (with practice, some people reckon you can even choose what kind of dream you get) Why pay real money for just one, over and over again?

  • Cassandra

    Hey Lauren….I hope you dont smoke or drink (I dont do either) because if you do, that is people that are being taxed for ignorance…are you kidding me?…people pay as much as $2.00 a pack tax for cigs that kill them…along with all the alcohol taxes that people pay to drink and drive and kill people… and to the 10,000 people that are now millionaires because of the lottery, how in the world did they do anything to hurt anyone just by buying a ticket….geeeeeeez….and guess what?…maybe some people do have the additonal $$$ to spend on tickets.   People need to worry about much more important things than spending a couple of bucks on a lottery ticket…lol

  • guest

    I bet you people usually say you are one dull-witted, laborious twat too.

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