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Historic Powerball Drawing Bringing Out Droves of Hopefuls but Lotteries Remain Detrimental to Poor

MoneyWith all the excitement over the recent Powerball lottery reaching historic heights of over $1.5 billion, it’s easy to fall into a similar mindset. Who wouldn’t want to wake up tomorrow morning hundreds of millions of dollars richer (after taxes and the potential for splitting the pot, of course)? But financial news site MarketWatch.com points out that lotteries of this nature feed right into data showing that the poor and impoverished are much more likely to try — and fail — at winning.

“There is not a single act of government today that promotes more inequality of opportunity,” said Les Bernal, national director of Stop Predatory Gambling, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit group. “This is government-sponsored gambling. It’s a ‘Hail Mary’ investment strategy for the poor.”

There are some who argue for all the good things the funds from lottery sales benefit. According to the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries, in 2015 lotteries raked in an estimated $78 billion, much of which will go towards education, transportation, and other aspects to benefit communities. On the other hand, a large portion of those sales comes from the very people many of those programs ultimately help.

“They very much prey upon the poor,” said Victor Matheson, professor of economics at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA. “They are in the business of selling hope and taxing people who aren’t good at math.”

Winning would be a life-changing event for anyone, but with the odds of that happening in the Powerball being one in 292 million, gamblers are essentially throwing their money away. For those with little to no discretionary income, it’s just not a good investment, many argue. Especially when considering that about 70% of lottery winners lose or spend all their money in five years or less.

The Journal of Gambling Studies published one study in 2011 that reflected these very points in data. Entitled, “Gambling on the Lottery: Socio-demographic Correlates Across the Lifespan,” the results found that men, African-Americans, Native Americans, and those who live in disadvantaged neighborhoods are more likely to engage in lottery play overall.

It’s difficult to get exact numbers because as the study pointed out: “There is relatively little empirical research on the extent of gambling on the lottery in representative socio-demographic groups characterized by age, gender, race/ethnicity and socioeconomic factors.”

At the end of the day, everyone has to make their own decisions and there is always that slight chance of something amazing happening, but don’t count on the lotto to change your life. Chances are you’ll be waiting a long time.