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I only missed by six numbers

I usually agree with James Taranto, but he had a ridiculous overreaction to this week's lottery hype in Friday's OpinionJournal. With regard to the news coverage of the man whose tickets I wish I had, he writes:

All this media attention to lottery winners serves only to glorify gambling. And the lottery is a bigger rip-off than any other form of legalized gambling. Innumeracy.com ran an experiment to see what would happened if it made 10,000 random selections and entered them in each of 479 drawings in the British lottery. Result: An "investment" of 4,790,000 returned just 1,375,082, which means that each 10,000 "invested" would have cost the player 7,129.

A lottery, Innumeracy.com notes, is "a tax on the poor and the stupid." The next time some liberal journalist complains about "tax cuts for the rich," consider how his colleagues in the media help enable the government to soak the poor.

To be fair to Taranto, this isn't an uncommon sentiment, though it usually comes from those on the left side of the political spectrum. As if. Do these commentators really believe that most people who gamble think they're going to get rich by doing it? Saying that the lottery is a "tax on the stupid" because it provides a negative return on investment -- I think it awfully strange that Taranto felt the need to provide a link to an "experiment" which proved this, as if basic probability isn't sufficient -- simply demonstrates that Taranto doesn't understand the appeal of the lottery. People don't argue that a movie ticket is a "tax on the stupid" simply because the purchaser ends up with $8.50 less than he started with, do they? Of course not. He's purchasing a couple of hours of entertainment, not an investment vehicle. And, despite what Taranto thinks, that's what lottery players are purchasing. They're purchasing the excitement of anticipating a possible win, of figuring out what they'd do with the money if they won, of mutually commiserating their friends and coworkers the next day when none of them win. And there's nothing wrong with that.


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Comments (2)

So, I figure that my FICA withholdings, if instead were invested in private accounts, would put me way ahead SS income after retirement. Doesn't that also qualify as a tax on the stupid?

Pat Conolly:

What are the odds of a 60 year old janitor winning a million bucks in the lottery? And what are the odds of a 60 year old janitor getting a million bucks by being a real good janitor? I don't think minimal lottery ticket purchases have any negative impact on anyone's life, and might have a great positive impact. And if someone decided to use their cigarette money for lottery tickets instead, they'd definitely be better off.


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