• 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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