The Stupid Tax

If you google “stupid tax” the third result is the Wikipedia page for the lottery. I’ve heard this for a long time with my Dad constantly reminding me that the lottery and gambling is a stupid tax, citing the well known very low odds of winning. The odds of winning last weeks Powerball was 1 in 175 million.

You have way better odds getting struck by lightning
-1 in 1 million.

Or better odds becoming president
-1 in 10 million

And even better odds than death by a vending machine:
-1 in 112 million.

Yet during the time last weeks Powerball tickets were for sale 131,000 were bought each minute.

Me and 2 of my coworkers decided to join forces and get in on the madness. Myself and a fellow conspirator had never gambled before, the other one had a BS in Mathematics from Temple and plays the lottery fairly regularly. We decided to buy 20 tickets, $40, $13.33 repeating of course.

The feelings I went through were strange. My first feeling was that this was stupid. Then I got worried we would win (realizing this would completely ruin my life). Then I thought of things I might buy. Then I realized I wanted to win less than the full lottery, maybe just win $10,000 or $100,000. Thinking, “that’s not a life changing amount.”

The roller coaster of emotions stopped when we bought the tickets. When I saw the tickets I immediately thought they were trash (most likely from seeing them on the ground) I felt like I had wasted $13. I did get excited again to see the results, which were obviously negative. After loosing it left me feeling an urge to play again. The thrill the chance of having money to throw around, the ability to be debt free gave me such glee.

This brings me to why people actually play the lottery. Lottery spokesperson Mary Neubauer, described these lottery buyers the following way, “Sales across the country are just through the roof. It means lots of people are having fun with this.”

Fun is certainly what buying lottery tickets is, but what drives people to buy the lottery certainly isn’t fun.

Households earning under $40,000 accounted for 28% of the state’s population but made up 54% of those buying lottery tickets.

38% of those who earn less than $25,000 point to the lottery as the most practical way for them to accumulate several hundred dollars.

On average, households that make less than $12,400 a year spend 5% of their income on lotteries.

That’s because the lottery gives poor people hope to get out of their desperate situation. While they could utilize savings to moderately increase their well-being they instead choose to gamble their money in hopes of breaking free of the economic situation. This tax isn’t a stupid tax but a hopeless tax. It’s a tax on people who have no hope other than the hope of 175 million to 1 odds.

As for me I will continue playing the Powerball because sometimes I need some hope in my life. I don’t know if I’ll play it alone, but I’ll certainly play it together with some good friends, that way we can share the burden and pleasure of winning (loosing every time) and planning how to use our winnings together. For a lowly bike mechanic like myself 1 in 175 million odds aren’t bad considering my current alternatives. It gives me some fun and hope in my life, even if I’m terrified of winning hundreds of millions. So the next time the pot gets bigs, me and my coworkers will pay the so wrongly called “stupid tax.”

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