Why Lottery Is a Tax on the Stubborn


Lottery is a form of gambling in which numbers are drawn to win a prize. It is an ancient tradition, with evidence of it appearing in the Low Countries in the 15th century to raise money for town fortifications and poor relief. Today, lottery is a massive industry that brings in over $80 billion per year in the United States alone. The vast majority of the proceeds go to taxes, and those who win often find themselves bankrupt in a few years. Instead of purchasing lottery tickets, Americans would be better off using this money to build an emergency fund or paying down credit card debt.

One of the reasons for this is that people who play the lottery spend a far smaller proportion of their incomes on it than do the poor. In a recent study, the research firm Bankrate found that people earning fifty thousand dollars or more annually buy, on average, one percent of their income in tickets; those making less than thirty thousand dollars spend thirteen percent.

Another reason is that people who play the lottery have a different sense of how likely they are to win. While defenders sometimes argue that lottery is just a tax on the stupid—implying that lottery players don’t understand how unlikely it is to win or that they enjoy playing the game anyway—research shows that sales rise as incomes fall, unemployment increases, and poverty rates increase. And, like all commercial products, lottery sales are heavily promoted in neighborhoods that are disproportionately poor, black, or Hispanic.

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