Protecting Consenting Adults: Making Gambling So That No One Loses

() grey wolfOne of the great ideas of liberals is that what consenting adults choose to do is their business as long as it does not hurt others. We are told to keep our noses out of their lives and our own set of standards to ourselves. Yet even though the freedom of consenting adults is a bedrock doctrine it does not apply universally. Again, thinking of Orwell’s Animal Farm I have to paraphrase: “All consenting adults are to be left alone; but some consenting adults need some guidance.”

I found this article that sets out that proposition.  It noted that ”more than half of all lotto tickets are purchased by people in the poorest third of all households. Many report they buy tickets out of desperation.”

I’m not surprised at that. For many poor people the only way they are going to really get a decent pocketful of cash is to win it. Also for many each ticket represents a dream of escape and the money is considered well spent even though the dream lasts about five minutes.

This apparently bothers the do-gooder who wants to even the deck for the poor people. They have the same mentality as the members of the Women’s Christian Temperance League who brought us Prohibition. Ideally they would like to deprive the poor of their dreams and stop them from wasting their money.

Fortunately they cannot impose their workhouse ideas on the poor. They note though: “Still, there are means to improve the economic impact of the state lottery without taking away any consenting adult’s right to gamble, . . . “ Translated that means the poor folk will still be able to gamble but they won’t have to worry about losing their money. I was amazed at this win–win solution.

The writers say: Massachusetts ought to make the welfare of lottery players themselves a central part of its mission, harnessing the lottery’s network and popularity toward social ends once again.” Great. But how is this to be done.

Get this: “A first step would be for the lottery to introduce prize-linked savings lotteries, like those conducted in Sweden, the United Kingdom, and several other countries. In a prize-linked savings game, gamblers buy tickets just as they do now. There’s still a drawing and a winner; prizes are funded by the combined interest on all the ticket purchases. But the tickets themselves retain their face value as principal and can be deposited into a bank account.”

It is that easy. You place a ten-dollar bet and get a ticket and a voucher that you can deposit in your bank that is worth ten dollars. Why not put your whole paycheck into these lottery tickets each week?

Well one problem is the prize. It will be the interest on all the tickets purchased. With the interest rate hovering near zero it will not be too much. Those offering this idea seem not to understand that the people who play the lottery are hoping for a big pay-day and not a few extra dollars so it is doubtful many would play.

The truth is, though, there is no such lottery like that anywhere in the world. What does exist has nothing to do with lotteries. People put money into CDs for a certain period of time during which they cannot take the money out. All those that do are eligible for a prize every so often for having put their money into the savings account and keeping it there.  One woman told how excited she was to win fifty bucks.

No one dreams about winning fifty bucks. The idea of a risk free lottery for the poor seems to me to be a non-starter. They  won’t lose money which is good; but then again they won’t play it but opt for the ones with the big prize. Why do you think the top prize is the one that is always advertised?

3 thoughts on “Protecting Consenting Adults: Making Gambling So That No One Loses

  1. Lotteries can be described as voluntary taxes on the mathematically naive. A recent Forbes article on the “expected value” (a statistical term – read the article in the link to learn the definition) of a Powerball ticket uses the phrase “a tax on those who can’t do math”:

    Alcohol and tobacco taxes ares easily imposed by those who do not drink or smoke to discourage consumption, but can have the effect of actually discouraging consumption by raising prices charged to the consumer leading to lesser tax revenue. Motor vehicle fuel taxes can be rationalized as paying for the actual costs of building and maintaining roads paid by those who actually use the roads, but do not actually fully pay those costs. However, lotteries as state-run competition for the lotteries run by organized crime are a dubious proposition. Government-run casinos (even those run by local Indian tribal governments) as competition to organized crime run gaming activities are also a dubious proposition.

    Are there any other activities associated with organized crime that the government should co-opt?

  2. Matt,
    One way to look at it will be that less Massachusetts dollars will be spent in R.I. and Connecticut casinos.

    Found a very interesting article about how there is (was) a loophole in the Cash Windfall game that allowed virtually guaranteed profits for bettors in-the-know.

    Reminds me of the group of MIT students that broke the bank in Vegas with their blackjack card-counting system.

  3. This is a great post. I know actual people in my neighborhood who actually are working people that play the daily mid and eve 3 digit game as a second income. Some of them use systems and trends, others use meaningful numbers. Older man told me when you bet meaningful numbers you are betting woth your heart, not your brain, and the Mass Lotto loves that. Matt i would say more lower-middle class people play the daily 3 digit number than any other person looking for a little 800 dollar boost. That is how bad it is in poor urban Fall River, Ma.

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