A tax on people who are bad at math

Most of us dream of it. The big win.

“Next summer I’ll make the strike, and this time I’ll put it into something safe for the rest of my life, and stop this fool wandering around.” [1]


The above map shows the states (in blue) which have state-sponsored lotteries. When the jackpot rises to the hundreds of millions of dollars, people flock to the convenience stores and plunk down a few dollars for the chance at a big one. But the probability of winning is so vanishingly small that players are simply flushing their money down the toilet for a brief, titillating dream.

The infographic below is large, but rather enlightening, as it makes your chances rather visible in terms of scale.


In Arabic, the appropriate expression is “بكرة في المشمش” (bokra fil mishmish, or “tomorrow, when the apricots bloom.”) That’s the equivalent of “How about never. Is never good for you?”

Proponents of lotteries push the idea that it’s cheap entertainment, cheaper than going to a movie or bowling or to a dance or concert. But I’m put in mind of Isiah 29:8:

“It shall even be as when an hungry man dreameth, and, behold, he eateth; but he awaketh, and his soul is empty: or as when a thirsty man dreameth, and, behold, he drinketh; but he awaketh, and, behold, he is faint, and his soul hath appetite.”

It is cheap entertainment… cheap as in the sense of little worth. When I was a kid in the 50’s, “made in Japan” was the equivalent of cheap slum, garbage, worthless trash – nowadays “made in China” seems to have taken over that shame (although we consume millions of tons of it from Wal-Mart and other places.)

Oh, make no mistake… I’ve been tempted. I live in one of the six states which has no lottery, and a couple of times I’ve been sorely tried… a little drive would take me over the border where I could plunk down my quatloos like the rest of humanity. But thankfully, I’ve prevailed, simply by reminding myself of the odds, and realizing that most of my money would be going to subsidize expenses for a state other than my own.

Despite the odds, millions play – and many others drop cash for worthless “systems” like the one shown here:


Yes, I’d love to be a multi-millionaire… but like WOPR said at the end of “War Games”, it’s a strange game… the only winning move is not to play.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

[1] Van Tilburg Clark, Walter, “The Wind and the Snow of Winter”

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