The Lure of the Lottery
“The modern experience of state-run lotteries in this country begins with New Hampshire in 1964. In a story that would be repeated across the country, New Hampshire faced a difficult choice: either raise taxes or institute a lottery” (Haugen). Since 1964 a myriad of states have been inclined to induce state lotteries to bring in a greater amount of revenue for their individual states. While state lotteries may be a method for converting individual contributions into works of collective good, they are about as inefficient a way as could be designed. State lotteries do whatever it takes (i.e. sophisticated advertising, specialized marketing techniques, clever slogans) to sell their product. They do this even when it means misleading players about their odds of winning, introducing more addictive games that aggressively target the poor, and look away while minors gamble.
The fact that state lotteries have the lowest odds of winning of any form of gambling is never stated in the countless advertisements states have about their lotteries. “According to the U.S. Council on Compulsive Gambling, fewer than 50% of state-run lotteries disclose their odds in print advertising, and only 25% do so in television ads” (Bayer). Unless state law requires the lottery to disclose the true odds of winning, and few do, lottery advertisements generally overstate or obscure the chances of winning, in order to make the worst bet in gambling seem attractive. Lotteries are regulated only by the state governments themselves, which are the same state governments that depend on lottery profits to increase their revenues. “Although commercial sweepstakes operators like Publisher’s Clearinghouse are governed by the Federal Trade Commission’s truth-in-advertising rules, Congress has exempted state lotteries from such restraints” (Nelson). State governments are not only hurting their citizens by using deceitful advertising, they are also hurting themselves. The deceptive and corrosive nature of lottery advertising contributes to a general distrust for the word of government officials. As if states running general advertisements were not enough, the state lotteries have now turned to sending direct mail. “In addiction to running ads, some states even conduct direct-mail campaigns, sending coupons for free tickets via mail” (Shenk). State lottery advertisements are not only dishonest, but most are aimed specifically at those most likely to gamble on lotteries; the poor.
State lotteries prey upon the most vulnerable; those with smaller amounts of disposable income that spend a greater proportion of their earnings on lotteries. “Lottery ads prey on a sense of economic hopelessness, claiming to offer a real chance of financial success; a chance that work and saving, the messages seem to suggest, cannot provide” (Gearey). The ubiquitous promotion of lotteries, equate success with luck rather than work, thus undermining a fundamental societal norm. State lotteries are the antithesis of the American dream. They are mechanisms by which the state seduces its most vulnerable citizens with the promise of riches, suckering them into gambling away their income and their unemployment checks on games that offer an almost infinitesimal chance of winning big. Lotteries also prey on the poor by timing ads to coincide with monthly welfare and Social Security checks. “Charles T. Clotfelter and Philip J. Cook report that an advertising plan for Ohio’s SuperLotto read: ‘Schedule heavier media weight during those times where consumer disposable income peaks...Government benefits, payroll, and Social Security payments are released on the first Tuesday of each calendar month’” (Gearey). This shows the devious nature of state officials that has lead to innumerable social implications implemented by state lotteries.
During economic downturns, people increase their spending on lotteries and other risky ventures, even when they really can not afford to...
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