The Lottery: A Monopoly Upon State Malevolence

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If you hang
around your local gas station or food mart long enough, a scruffy-looking
man will toddle in the door and request $25.00 of gas on pump nine,
a pack of Camels Lights, one mega-million card and three of your
dollar scratchers. He will then proceed to scratch the tickets as
his gas pumps, only to return with a $2.00 winner that he would
like to exchange for two more tickets. He will proceed to scratch
the tickets again, discard them in the trash, and leave. You will
not see this man again until next payday.

Gambling is
a moron's retirement plan, and it is certainly not our positive
obligations to help morons. Yet, unlike the casinos, what is it
about state lotteries that make these acts so contemptible?

By means of
mandatory K-12 drill-and-kill public education, the state ill-educates
the public into a pool of mathematical ignorance. Most high school
students graduate without a single course in probability/statistics.
Sure, in seventh grade they learn about the probability of pulling
an ace out of a deck of cards, but permutations and combinations
like that needed to calculate the odds of winning the mega-millionaire
jackpot is only taught to the top percentile of high school students,
which is usually recommended as an elective, not as a course of
learning.

How convenient.

The state not
only promotes the public's ignorance in probabilities, but then
maximizes that ignorance via a monopoly on gambling.

Thus, simple
equations like the one below are foreign to the majority of the
populace.

Not only is
the math foreign, but even the term "your odds of winning"
is foreign to most individuals. What does 1 out of 80 million even
denote to the average citizen?

Let us translate
this into something more tangible that common individuals can comprehend.

Here is a penny

If this penny
represents the chance of you winning the mega-lottery jackpot, then
here is how many pennies you must choose from.


(See The
Mega Penny Project
)

Yet, you will
find nothing of this nature on the lottery websites or the back
of the cards. Instead you will find this:

LOTTERY

TYPE

Odds
1 Chance in:

US PowerBall

5/45
+ 1/42

80,089,128

US The
Big Game

5/50
+ 1/36

76,275,360

(According
to The
Lottery Site
)

Again, I am
not highlighting that casinos and other private gambling venues
should highlight such depictions of probability, but at least these
private institutions are upfront about their self-indulgence. The
state, however, promotes such ignorance from their constituents
under the veil of moral good. States will even advertise the various
"good things" it does with its lotto earnings (like promoting
more public education or other state funding), while all along it's
the impoverished saps that keep giving away their money.

But whose money
are they giving away?

What percentage
of transfer payments like welfare, unemployment, disability or social
security simply returns to the state via the "stupid tax"?
More bluntly, what percentages of OUR paychecks are being given
away?

Now, maybe
the naysayer will argue that state gambling is indeed evil, but
deregulated gambling would lead to even higher improbabilities of
losing, and thus why we should outlaw gambling all together?

I don't believe
this to be true.

Sidestepping
the issue that no one has the moral authority to assert what others
may or may not do with their own money, competition in gambling
would actually lead to higher probabilities of winning or some other
form of payout. For example, casinos litter their hotels with free
festivities and offerings so that consumers feel as though they
are getting something for their money. Consumers may travel to Vegas,
blow one month's pay, and still have a great time. Casinos offer
these extras not out of the good of their hearts, but because of
the competition with other casinos.

When is the
last time the state lottery offered such extras? Sure, you may write
the losses off your income taxes (as if they actually own the income
they tax) but that's it! At least I can be sure that under a private
lottery I would get some free gas, coffee, Reese Cups or some other
kickback from the convenience store from which I bought the lottery
ticket. If not, I will buy his competitors ticket.

Therefore,
let us return one more time to the convenience of our malevolent
state-controlled lottery. The state may choose what math is important
for study, exploit that ignorance in mathematics, and veil its racketeering
under the label of social good all from the comforts of its monopoly.

March
30, 2010

Jeremiah
Dyke [send him mail]
is a math teacher who hails free markets and freedom of choice.

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