CNN suddenly discovered this week that state lotteries are regressive and overwhelming exploit poor people and minorities. Too bad these inquiring, always-alert-to-new-issues journalists don’t read Ethics Alarms (but then, few do). I raised this issue in many posts, notably here (in 2010), here (1n 2012), here (also in 2012), and here (in 2016). The news media being shocked–-shocked!—that lotteries are cynical, unethical devices to deal with state budget deficits by legislators who don’t have the guts to raise taxes is like anyone who is surprised to see the cryptocurrency scam come crashing down. Welcome to the party, pals! (You incompetent morons…)
The CNN piece this week interviewed critics calling lotteries in general and PowerBall in particular a form of systemic racism that targets poor black and brown communities across America. Researches told wide-eyed CNN talking heads that despite the extreme low chance of winning, state lotteries aggressively market the lottery to sell tickets at higher rates to low-income communities, who are vulnerable to get rich quick without working schemes. Well of COURSE they market the lotteries: it makes the state millions of dollars! Why would they have a lottery and not market it? CNN also noted a report from 1999 finding that black Americans, high-school dropouts, and low-income citizens played the lottery on a more frequent basis.
Gee, I’m stunned. Who would have suspected that, except for the fact that everyone knew this would be the case before the first state lottery was approved many moons ago. State lotteries are just the old, illegal numbers racket nationalized. Who played the numbers? Poor people. For heaven’s sake, the dirt poor denizens of Catfish Row in “Porgy and Bess’ are shown playing the numbers (and singing!) What a shock: the linear descendants of those player are also the primary targets and market for today’s lotteries.
CNN needed researchers to point this out to them?
It’s not systemic racism though; calling it that IS racist. The lotteries exploit stupid people, uneducated people, desperate, lazy people, people who don’t understand probabilities and don’t get the concept of differed gratification or investment. Being black or brown doesn’t make people victims of the lotteries. All you have to do is be smart enough to say, “No…this is nuts. It’s like throwing money away. I’ll save the money I would have used on lottery tickets, and then I can do something useful with it.” It’s not a difficult concept. Parents should be teaching that to their kids as soon as they are old enough to have money.
Responsible parents (and community leaders) should also explain how lottery winners almost always blow everything they win, and how they almost never step up the class ladder because they don’t know how to handle money, save it, spend it wisely, or keep the swarms of desperate relatives and friends away once they find out that good ‘ol Whoever has more money than he “needs.” They blow their winnings for the same reasons they played the lotteries, and for the same reasons they felt they had to play the lotteries. Bad judgment. Poor choices.
I see people dressed in near rags buying 20 and 40 bucks of scratch-off lottery tickets virtually every time I go the 7-11. It makes me crazy; I have come close many times to interrupting and asking, “What’s the matter with you?” I guess I should just tell them to watch more CNN.