posted 2012-12-18 19:01:03

The Business of Lottery

Don’t believe the hype—you’re not the one getting the money

Niyah Pitters

Contributing Writer

Once again, Americans have flocked in droves for the latest lottery jackpot. I understand the appeal. We all want the dream of living in a world where we are free from financial worry. Everyone’s cautious about their financial stability, especially people in lower-income families. The lotto industry knows this and purposely markets to poor Americans. The business preys on the hopes of these people and it works.

The lottery is a booming business. It made an astounding 70 billion dollars last year, and that number increases every year. Almost 6 billion dollars of this money goes to the numerous ad campaigns. The costs of these campaigns have increased dramatically within in the recent years. I can’t go an hour of television without seeing a lottery commercial. But where does this money come from? Jonah Lehrer from Wired magazine explains the most frequent lottery players are poor, uneducated Americans. Furthermore, households with incomes lower than 12,500 dollars spend about 5% of that income on lottery tickets. These optimistic Americans play the lotto hoping for much-needed relief. As soon as I enter any bodega, I am bombarded with Lottery signs presenting tickets from numerous collections of scratch offs or the day’s mega millions jackpot. These bodegas are predominantly located in poor neighborhoods. It’s the Lottery business’s main way of preying on the poor, by knocking on their doors. Interestingly enough, all the money these lower-income families spend on lotto keeps the business alive.

The Lottery business knows exactly what effect they have on the poor. Their success is based on lotto player’s belief in chance. Our hope is their bread and butter. Their tagline is actually “Hey, you never know.” Lehrer later notes “the sad positive feedback loop of lotteries. The games naturally appeal to poor people, which cause them to spend disproportionate amounts of their income on lotteries, which help keep them poor, which keeps them buying tickets.” The poor live with a dire constant need for money to provide for themselves. This makes them susceptible to playing excessive amount of lotto in hopes of winning. More often than not they lose, costing them a valuable amount of money that drives them back to lottery playing. The business works by tricking the poor in an endless cycle of trying to chase money.

Yes, some people play lotto for fun and jokes, but a lot of people put heavy stock into it. Two or five dollars for a lottery ticket may not seem like a lot, but that adds up to a 70 billion dollars per year business, a business that makes more money than music and movie tickets selling combined.

Most of that 70 billion dollars goes back to pay for other lottery winnings. Reportedly, 16.4 billion goes into the state government which trickles down to the education system. I don’t buy it. Despite lottery sales only increasing, schools, especially those in New York, are experiencing severe budget cuts. An investigation by CBS News actually revealed most states rarely rely on lottery money for state education. Lottery money accounts for only one thirteenth of the money in New Jersey’s education budget. The rest of the 16 billion supposedly goes to state programs, some of which support low income families. Ironically, the lottery funded state programs to help the poor are partially paid by them.

Worse than taking money from the poor, the lottery is almost impossible for them to win. The chances of winning the latest Powerball jackpot of 587 million were 1 in 3 million, about the same chance of dying by a lightning strike. This doesn’t deter lotto players from spending their money on the chance they might win. The chance of winning will keep the poor and hopeful playing lottery for forever. Buying a lotto ticket gives a certain hope people don’t experience in their day to day lives. It gives them a chance to dream of what could be. I saw it all across the news, the man or woman with a huge smile and lotto ticket in hand. The lottery is a business based on exploiting our emotions, and in a post-Sandy New York it’s the last thing we need. The lottery business isn’t solely to blame. We resort to believing these idyllic ideas instead of facing blunt truth. Americans need to become aware of the effects their actions have on the world. Until then, we are only cheating ourselves.