Sunday, October 21

Does Someone's Plans For Lottery Winnings Qualify As News?

I know it's news when the lottery gets big. I can remember back when Wisconsin first got the lottery (was it illegal before?), and the news would get all crazy when the jackpot got to a certain level. Probably $100,000,000. People would travel up to Fond du Lac to buy tickets on the Miracle Mile. In Jacksonville, a seedy convenience store is our miracle store, so that's where the news is parked, and where the lines are long. I suppose that is news. The speculative fantasies of what interviewed locals would do with their winnings, however: not news.

Sure, it's a decent warm-up writing activity for local teachers. "If you could legally buy a lottery ticket, what would you do with the winnings?" Kids are more honest than their parents, who generally feign altruism in interviews. I know, it's fun to think about, even for someone like me, who has never purchased a lottery ticket. Actually, I was going to buy one on my 18th birthday, but I'm pretty sure I never bothered. Maybe I did. I don't remember, and that's kind of depressing.

In my view, the real question for 99.999999999% of the people really should be, "What would you have done with the money you spent on the lottery tickets had you not given it away to some other lucky SOB?" I assume most people buy more than one chance to win, so it might be a legitimate question.

Several people claimed they would give money to family and charities. That's nice. But since you're not going to win, will you still support those family members and charities? You realize that the lottery only pays out a percentage of what people put into it, right? Two-thirds, actually, meaning that a prize of $666 million was paid for with $1 billion in ticket sales. The average amount spent per resident of Massachusetts on the lottery was $671.46 per year in 2012, and the average for all states was $200. I understand Massachusetts--anything to get out of Boston. Since I never buy a ticket, that means someone else is spending $400. Probably someone who could use $400 on groceries.

I was very surprised when I saw the numbers on the lottery. We spent $60 billion on the lottery as a nation in 2012. Some perspective: the Department of Veteran's Affairs cost our taxpayers $70 billion in 2012, and this is what that money went for:
near-comprehensive healthcare services to eligible military veterans at VA medical centers and outpatient clinics located throughout the country; several non-healthcare benefits including disability compensation, vocational rehabilitation, education assistance, home loans, and life insurance; and provides burial and memorial benefits to eligible veterans and family members at 135 national cemeteries.
The lottery, by contrast, makes a few hundred people a year into millionaires. People who don't deserve the money, of course. And the big jackpots? Powerball has  had 15 winners a year (give or take) for the past 15 years. Sure, it could be you, but probably not. At least all of our spending is going to a worthy cause, right? In Florida, here's what we get out of the lottery:
Though the Florida Lottery's expenses and payouts vary from year to year, approximately 50 to 60 percent of its net revenue makes up the games' prize pools, 30 to 40 percent is transferred to the Educational Enhancement Trust Fund, 6 percent is paid to retailers in the form of commissions, 2 percent is paid to the Lottery's on-line and Scratch-Off ticket vendors, and the remaining 2 percent covers operational costs, including advertising.
I thought I read that there was some controversy in the education payouts (Bright Futures), but whatever. I'm cool with it if you want to pay for my kids to attend college. But it's insane to me that Floridians are spending $5 billion a year on playing the lottery, getting back over $1 billion for education, and paying some lucky shirtless guy $200 million for putting on a shirt to buy a ticket. I guess I'm cynical, but why not take the shirtless guys and retailers out of the equation? Let's just pay out $1 billion a year to lucky people who pay their property taxes on time, tell everyone else to play some board games at home, and give $2 billion to education. Yes, that's dumb, but so is the lottery.

Oh yeah, what would I do if I won $1 billion? You don't care, and anything I say would be a lie.