How the Lottery Scams Poor People

So the Mega Millions lottery jackpot here
in the United States, as of today, has reached
a record high of 1.6 billion dollars.
That is a comically large amount of money
but it is definitely not unprecedented.
Just a couple years ago, another lottery game
called the Powerball reached almost the same
The Powerball, incidentally, currently has
its own jackpot of over half a billion dollars.
These games are very popular in America, with
millions and millions of lottery tickets being
bought every day.
And eventually, one or more absurdly lucky
people will win the jackpot.
As long as people keep buying tickets, it’s
bound to happen.
Even so, you really shouldn’t buy lottery
You’re not gonna win.
Also, the lottery is
[slowed down voice] PROBLEMATIC
and probably shouldn’t exist.

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Speaking of luck, lets talk more about the
So just to get it out of the way, you’re
not gonna win the lottery.
It is an absolute waste of money to play the
Mega Millions or any lottery game.
Technically, there’s a very very small chance
that you might win a jackpot, but that chance
is so infinitesimal, that it is essentially
and practically zero.
The mathematical odds of winning the Mega
Millions jackpot is about 1 in 300 million.
Incidentally there are about 300 million people
who live in the United States, so if every
single man, woman, enby and child in America
bought a random lottery ticket, odds are only
about 1 single person would win.
Almost everything that you can think of that
can happen to you that is really improbable,
is much more likely than winning this jackpot.
Being struck by lightning, getting a royal
flush in poker.
Becoming the President.
I mean this fuckin guy did it.
All of that is way more likely to happen to
It’s actually more likely to flip a coin
and have it land on heads 28 times in a row
than it is to win the Mega Millions jackpot.
But a lot of you probably understand that,
and of course this all by design.
In fact, that’s the reason why these jackpots
are reaching record highs.
Because the organizations that run these games
are making the odds of winning them lower
and lower.
Both the Mega Millions and Powerball recently
changed the way their games work; doing things
like increasing the range of numbers you can
choose from, which vastly decreases your odds
of winning, thus allowing for higher base
rewards, and also creating more losers, which
allows them to crank up the jackpot even more.
And this works, because people go nuts for
these absurdly high jackpots and buy more
tickets when they reach astronomical levels.
You might think that people would be more
interested in a lower jackpot if the game
was easier to win, but this just isn’t the
case in practice.
Which is proven by the fact that these organizations
are seeing record sales, even though the game
is literally harder to win.
After a certain point, they don’t even have
to advertise the lottery anymore, because
everyone’s talking about it, in the news
and on social media, and YouTube videos…
and all of this buzz encourages purchases
from people who don’t normally play the
And it’s the participation of these infrequent
players that causes the prize amounts to really
tip the scales.
I live in Alabama which is actually one of
the very few states where you can’t play
the lottery, but even here everyone’s talking
about it, asking their friends and family
from out of town to buy them tickets, or sometimes
even driving across the state border themselves.
And in case you’re wondering how these organizations
can afford these billion dollar payouts, don’t.
Sales of lottery tickets in the United States
reached about 80 billion dollars this year.
So, I think they can cover it.
Now a lot of you are probably like, yeah but
who cares if it’s likely?
Just let people have a fantasy!
[MAN]: What’s your big dream if you win?
[WOMAN 1]: I’d live on the beach.
[WOMAN 2]: Buy a house, and go on vacation!
Who cares what other people spend their money
And I generally agree with that.
I mean I would prefer that people be rational
with their money, but I spent 80 dollars at
the bar the other day, so I’m not one to
But I do think, like most things, it’s a
little more complicated than that.
Numerous studies have shown that disproportionately,
the people playing lottery games are poor
And lottery revenues actually go up when the
economy is doing bad.
One study showed that the more poor a person
feels, the more likely they are to play the
And while many people definitely play the
lottery just for fun, a lot of people see
it as a legitimate opportunity to escape poverty,
or unemployment or some other financial hardship.
As I hope you understand by now, this is false,
you’re not going to win the lottery.
And not only that, but the constant money
wasting only makes their financial situations
So it actually does the exact opposite of
what people expect from it.
But it’s no wonder people feel like this,
because the lottery is advertised to the public
as a reasonable purchases.
[VOICEOVER]: New York Mega Millions; hey,
you never know.
This fantasy of overnight riches is sold to
us as something that is within our reach,
“it only takes is a dollar and a dream.”
Sometimes the media even contributes to this
So yeah people are free to spend their money
on whatever they want.
But we’re talking about people, convinced
that they could possibly receive a large reward,
spending money and in reality getting very
little, if anything, in return.
That sounds like a con to me.
In my opinion this falls in the same category
as other unethical business practices that
prey on the poor, like payday loans, or overdraft
But even in those examples, which are definitely
ripoffs that you shouldn’t sign up for,
you at least get something of minute value
in exchange for your money.
Unlikely the lottery where you get essentially
Now as you may or may not know, lottery games
are run by state organizations, so all of
the revenue that isn’t paid out to winners
goes to local governments.
And this fact is often used to defend the
existence of lotteries, because that money
is sometimes used by governments to fund local
This can include things like environmental
or transportation funding, but education funding
is the quintessential, and most often cited
I mean, I would have much less of a problem
with this if they were using that money to
help those poor people in some way.
But poor people get the short end of the stick,
because even though they contribute the most
to lottery revenues, middle and upper class
people are benefiting from that education
funding, just as much, if not more than them.
And more education funding isn’t a bad thing,
I just don’t think that poor people should
be the ones paying for most of the bill.
But that’s only if that funding even really
Some lotteries are advertised almost as if
they are charities, boasting about how much
money they give to education, but this is
often disingenuous.
Instead of using lottery revenue to add extra
funding to education, many states simply use
that revenue as a substitute for their existing
government budget, which they then spend on
who knows what.
It all gets lost in the red tape by that point.
So no one’s actually getting a boost.
In fact states with lotteries hardly spend
any more on average towards education than
states that don’t have lotteries.
Alaska spends more on education per capita
than any state except New York, and they don’t
even have a lottery.
Lotteries are portrayed as a chance for lucky
citizens to win free money.
But these games don’t benefit the players.
The lottery exists primarily as a revenue
generator for local governments.
In that way it is essentially a tax.
And I am not one of those edgelords that’s
going to tell you that taxation is theft.
Taxation, when handled intelligently, is probably
an integral part of a functioning society.
But in this case, you’re literally just
giving money to the government, and usually
getting nothing noticeable in return.
You might as well just put grab a 20 dollar
bill and drop it on the doorstep of your governor’s
And this is a tax that is disproportionately
and regressively paid by poor people—people
who have been tantalized with false dreams
of becoming overnight millionaires, and sold
this impossible fantasy as if it is a rational
solution to their financial uncertainty.
I have nothing against gambling specifically.
I’m a big fan of the craps table, and I’ll
smash you in Texas Holdem.
What does make me uncomfortable though, is
exploiting the anxiety of the most disadvantaged
people in your community.
Taking their money under false pretenses and
then doing nothing with it that is useful
to the people who gave it to you.
What do you think?
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