Thursday, November 06, 2008

Race and the lottery

One of my statistics professors told me that the lottery is a tax on people who are bad at math.

The Gambling Impact and Behavior Study asked 1,650 people the following: "In the past year, think about how often you bought a big jackpot lottery ticket such as Lotto or Powerball, a daily lottery ticket like pick-4, or an instant or scratch-off ticket." The graph displays answers by race. Twenty-one percent of blacks buy some kind of ticket about daily compared to only 4% of whites. A huge difference, no doubt.


  1. Anonymous7:27 AM

    Pah! The lottery is about buying Man's greatest gift - hope.
    Hope! For only a dollar a week, that's a bargain, my friend.

  2. True, if you consider the math, you'll know it's almost impossible to win, but I'm not sure that innumeracy is the people buy big payback lottery tickets. There's also pure psychology. For desperate people, it's like lighting a candle in church, something to spur hopefulness. Buying a lottery ticket could also be a kind of sacrament to people who believe they have little control over their lives, a way of engaging with fortune that makes its dominance acceptable.

  3. Innumeracy is the what? the reason. Sorry.

  4. You're rather more pithy than I, anonymous @ 7.27.

  5. Neil Boortz calls it a tax on the stupid. Now that's pithy.

  6. Anonymous3:25 PM


    So help me one of our employees, when I asked him if his 401K's was doing as badly as of late (this is two months ago) as mine was, told me that the lottery was his 401K, and if he bought 4 tickets a week over the years, he was bound to "hit it" just once.

    He is black. A nice guy, and a pretty good worker, although not the brightest bulb, but still a serviceable employee who you can trust with some moderate decisions.

    He buys four lottery tickets a week. I think they are about five bucks here (Ive never bought one). Thats eighty bucks a month, and one hundred bucks on five-week months. Thats slightly over one thousand a year, including the inevitable pieces of candy and cigarettes he will pick up that he otherwise wouldn't have on his trip the the convienience store, and the gas there. It probably is more like 1100 a year that otherwise could have been put on the market for his retirement.

    So, lets see..........1100 a year for 40 years is 44K on the market growing and compounding in value....................vs. two or three one thousand dollar payoffs in statistical probabillity which equals 2 to 3 thousand. Lets be generous and say he had luck hitting those five dollar payoffs and few tens and a few hundreds.

    He will probably win 4 or 5 thousand dollars of the 44 thousand he wastes.

    If he'd invested all that at just a fair return, what would he have........300K perhaps, even better?

    Its a shame.

    Thats alright though, Obama will just take some of the money those tight-assed white folks save and make sure they dont have any more of it than he does because it would be racist and all........

    Lotteries are the tooth fairy for grown children.

  7. Hucbald,

    My honors English teacher called it an Ignorance Tax. Even pithier!

  8. I wonder what percentage of people never buy lottery tickets. This table doesn't seem to say. I'm 26 and I'm proud to say that I've never bought a ticket my entire life.

  9. Anonymous8:52 AM

    i am 33 y/o asian and buy lotto ticket 2-5 times a year. 1 dollar each time. please update your sample accordingly.

  10. A few years back, I was with a black friend, so I got cajoled into buying a ticket.

    ... but I can honestly say I still have my honour!


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