Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Lottos sign something wrong

So, did you win the Powerball lottery? I didn’t think so. There were just three winners for the grand prize of $1.6 billion dollars and seventy tree new millionaires. But not you or me.

The odds of winning the Powerball lottery were very, very slim. Apparently the odds of winning the top prize were 292.1 million to one. That’s 292.1 followed by six zeros. It was three times worse than the odds of successfully contacting Kim Kardashian by dialling a random cellphone number, and then hoping her phone happens to ring. Or if you are a 20-year-old man, the odds of your ticket winning were somewhat worse than the odds you will die in the next two minutes.

A bakery in Toronto gave away $2 Powerball tickets to the first five hundred customers who bought $20 worth of baked goods. That’s $10,000 worth of sales for a cost of $1,000. And they did it a couple of days in a row.

I could never figure out what the attraction of lotteries was. I think I’ve bought one lottery ticket in my lifetime, way back when Wintario was the only game in town, but of course it never won, so I never bought another.

Lotteries depend on human greed. We think we will get something for nothing (or a huge return for a minimal investment). But we don’t. For every winner, there are, in the case of Powerball and every other lottery, millions and millions of losers.

Well, that’s not true. There is one real winner. That’s the state governments who take a share of the Powerball profits.

The same is true in Canada. Lotteries, which were started back in the 1970's to fund the Montreal Olympics, are now an essential source of government revenue. In the 2013-2014 fiscal year, Ontario lotteries contributed $2 billion dollars to the public coffers and were the single largest source of non-tax revenue to the province.

 What governments have finally figured out is that in sponsoring and legalizing lotteries, citizens are now paying a voluntary tax. Every time you buy a lottery ticket, a scratch ticket or place a sports bet, you are paying a government levy. And what’s even better is that no one complains.

Given that fact, along with the huge odds against winning anything, some have called lotteries a tax on stupidity.

What’s worse is that this voluntary tax is paid by people the least able to afford it. Repeated studies in the US have shown that the largest spenders on lotteries, proportionally by income, are the poor. They spend more of their scarce dollars on chasing lighting, hoping to win big and get out of poverty.

What’s driving lotteries spending then is nothing more than despair; a dream; a false hope of winning big. For people stuck in minimum wage, no benefit, part time or contract jobs, a lottery ticket and the horrendously poor odds of winning it offers is the only way to change their lives.

That’s simply a disgrace. Not only that, it exploits the hopeless.

Didn’t win the Powerball? Neither did I. But I can take that $2 I saved by not buying a ticket and buying myself a hot cup of coffee at a local business. And that benefits all of us; employer, employee, government and me.

Rev. David Shearman is a retired United Church minister in Owen Sound and the host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County.