The Lottery Solution

This past weekend, I was in a 7-11 partaking in a Slurpee when I saw a scraggly dude buying a lottery ticket. Now, in terms of return on investment, a Slurpee is a way better choice than a lottery ticket. When you spend a dollar on a Slurpee, you’re guaranteed to win a delicious, refreshing beverage. With a lottery ticket, you literally get nothing except a scrap of paper almost every time.

I have this perception that poor people buy a lot of cigarettes and lottery tickets, perpetuating their poverty. I can’t speak to the cigarettes, but when I got home with my Slurpee, I Googled “poor people” and “lottery tickets.” I found this article and this information:

“A study by the Commission on Thrift reported that households with an income below $13,000 spend 9 percent of their money on lotteries. By comparison, households making $130,000 spend 0.3 percent of income on lotteries.”

9 percent versus 0.3%? That’s a huge difference. (9% of $13,000 is $1,170 and 0.3% of $130,000 is $390, in case you’re curious.) It’s absolutely idiotic and irresponsible for you to be spending $1,170 lottery tickets if you’re only making $13,000 a year.

Some states are testing out lottery programs where your money goes into a savings account and you have an entry entered in a lottery/raffle once a a year for a decent payout. It’s a good idea, a good start.

But many states don’t like those lotteries, because states make a ton of money off of poor people buying lottery tickets. It’s a magical source of income. But with all the bad stuff that comes out of impoverished people, I bet states end up spending way more on those people in other ways.

So here’s my lottery solution: If you haven’t been a student the past 5 years, you’re over 21, and your income has been less than $13,000 for the last 5 years, you are eligible to be a part of this solution. All you have to do is give up your right to gamble or play the lottery for the rest of your life, and your state will pay you $50,000 cash.

Now, I know there are tons of loopholes here. You could give the money to a friend and they could buy lottery tickets. You could go abroad and gamble. You could go spend the money on drugs or 20 plasma TVs.

But let’s say those things could be worked around. Maybe it’s not even cash. Maybe it’s a college scholarship fund for your kids. I yield to you in the comments for some creativity here.

The point is, by offering a huge, irresistible payday, you could cure millions of poor people of a self-destructive disease for life. This could have an incredibly positive effect on society.

Now, I don’t think the middle and upper classes owe anything to the poor. (There’s a BUT to that. It’ll come later.)

The one big exception to that statement are poor kids. Poor kids have it the worst. They have an uphill battle to climb. Some will make it up that hill, while many will stay poor. I think it’s worth the time and resources of non-poor people to help impoverished kids get out of the sinkhole that is poverty through organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters and Angel Baked Cookies.

I think that allocating similar resources (like programs that help recently released criminals find a stable place in society) can have a positive effect on society. But I think that allocating funds to  to impoverished adults–whether its welfare or a dollar to the panhandler on the corner–is a mistake that doesn’t help anyone. It doesn’t help the poor escape the cyclical nature of poverty. And the negative habits of the poor–crime in particular–have a hugely negative impact on all of society.

Thus, even though I don’t feel that I owe it to the poor to help them, I feel like I have a vested interest in decreasing the number of truly impoverished people in America (and the world). There must be some ways to incentivize poor people to help break some of their self-destructive habits. I wrote about one solution a while ago. And maybe today’s solution would have a positive impact as well.

What do you think?



12 thoughts on “The Lottery Solution”

  1. Hey? What should I think about the time we all got lottery tickets for a Christmas present? Did we just receive an empty piece of paper? Or did we get excited at the possibilities of winning? Or were we glad that there was a small contribution to the ‘school fund’ — which is where the proceeds go in the our state.

    • I thought that was fun! I couldn’t exactly fill the stockings with Slurpees, could I?

      Also, I’m not saying that buying the occasional scratch-and-win is a waste. Sure, the occasional thrill is worth a few dollars a year. But not 9% of your income, or even 0.3%.

  2. First, let me me start by saying that I think your blog is great! Keep up the good work!

    I’m not easily offended, but for some reason, this topic struck a nerve with me. There is a logical reason why people down on their luck (no pun intended) play the lottery, more than people who have money in the bank to blow…it’s a tough world to make it in these days and money solves problems. To someone who struggles to keep their electricity on each month or works 3 jobs just to be able to feed their family, spending $1 or $2 a week on a Powerball ticket means the possibility of financial freedom. People in that position don’t view it as blowing $1,170 each year, they view it as an opportunity for a way out, an end to the struggle.

    Everyone dreams of what they would do if they won the lottery. Pay off their bills, buy a home, send their kids to college, go on a shopping spree. Why steal someones dreams? I agree that gambling in general can become a dangerous thing for some people, but there are always “those people” that ruin it for others, no matter what the topic or activity. I’m ok with someone walking into the gas station with a scraggly beard, no teeth and dirty clothes on, slapping a $5 bill on the counter and buying a ticket that could change their life. He’s the kind of guy that I would love to see win. But if he doesn’t, there is always the next drawing and the dream continues on.

    Someone’s gotta win, and the poor have just as good of a chance and just as many rights as anyone to spend their money trying to make life a little easier.

    • My dad always taught me ‘there is no such thing as a free lunch.” Yes, playing the lottery is a fun game with the possibilities of financial freedom. But it should not be in at the expense of paying the bills. However if playing the lottery is that ‘little daily treat’ – then that is GOOD. A treat for one person may be the lottery ticket and a treat for someone else is the Slurpee. The issue may lie in the fact the treat is the lottery ticket AND the Slurpee.

  3. Stealer–Hey, thanks for your comment. It would be great if you could use your real name (or a first name), but I do appreciate the civility of your post, especially since you disagree with a fairly sensitive topic! 🙂

    I totally agree that if you’re down on your luck (or even up on your luck), playing the lottery now and then can provide a form of escapism–you’re hoping for something better than what you have. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I escape into movies and books, which also cost money.

    The thing is, I think it becomes a problem–for poor people and for society–when they’re spending 9% of their income on that escape. That isn’t healthy. Right?

    So let’s say that buying the occasional lottery ticket is fine for a guy making $10,000 a year, but buying $1,000 worth of tickets is not fine. What’s your solution for getting that guy to knock his lottery spending down to, say, $100–enough that he can “live the dream,” but not enough that he’s burning money. I bet there are some other creative solutions out there.

  4. My husband and I talk about this a good bit, and we agree with you. Lotteries, welfare, etc. aren’t the answer – in the end it all comes down to education. If you think about it long enough, every possible way to reduce or eradicate poverty comes down to what people know. Do they know the possibilities that are out there? Do their parents value education? Do they know that if they work hard in school, they can go to college regardless of their financial situation?

    Great post!

    • Anne–That’s a GREAT point about education. “Do their parents value education?” is a really tough one to solve. What’s your solution to get parents who grew up in houses where education wasn’t valued to suddenly value education for the sake of their kids?

    • Glad to hear that this post generated discussions with people who read the post (Anne) and others who may not read the post (her husband). Eradicating poverty or just simple moving from one class up to class takes hard work – starting with eduction. Entitlements or luck with lottery playing — is that the way upward?

  5. First off, let me say that this article was a breath of fresh air. My husband and I also have this conversation regularly about the destructive habits of the poor. Although, before I offend anyone, I came from a poor family myself. My parents never had a lot of money while we were growing up (and still don’t) but they ALWAYS made sure that we were provided for (i.e. their 5 children). They didn’t spend their money on junk like lottery tickets.
    Now, I cannot boast that my husband and I are wealthy but we get by comfortably. My husband has a full time job and I am currently a graduate student in the sciences. I had to work my butt of in order to go to college, let alone graduate school, because my parents couldn’t afford it.
    With that said, it is EXTREMELY frustrating to stand behind someone in a convenience store that has just purchased $100 or more in lottery tickets, cigarettes, snuff, etc. and then watch them pull out an Access card. While your statistics are interesting (9% of a $13,000 income is ridiculous), I wonder how much of that is actually bought using welfare money (i.e. the cash option some families are given on their Access card, at least in Pennsylvania).
    It is so frustrating to watch these people squander their money away (whether it was earned or handed out by the State) and then cry broke. All the while, people who are actually working for a living, have to foot the bill.
    My mom works in a convenience store in the town where I was raised. She sees this kind of behavior all the time. People who are poor and on welfare come in to buy lottery tickets and tobacco products and charge it to their Access card; sometimes, these individuals make three or more trips a day to buy these items. Sometimes, I just don’t understand. What a waste.
    I agree with the fact that it is possible to overcome poverty. The first step is to stop wasting so much money on junk items. The next step, as Anne stated so well, is education. Without it, people continue the same cycle. I can easily say that if I had not earned the opportunity to continue my education, I would be in a terrible financial situation right now.

    • Anne–Thanks for the awesome comment. I’m in dismay that people are allowed to use welfare for lottery tickets (or any non-essentials)…that doesn’t seem like the point of welfare at all.

      Hopefully people–people with money and people without money–will mature in their financial choices as time passes.


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