The lottery holds a certain fascination for most people. The risk! The heart-pounding suspense! Will this finally be the time I win?
Do you play the lottery? Why? Some people play for the amusement. This has always baffled me. Amusing things include movies, books, and sporting events. If you prefer a more participatory form of amusement, you could try playing football, video games, or knitting. But handing over a dollar for the privilege of scratching the gray stuff off the card? Wouldn’t flushing a dollar be more amusing? At least that way, you could watch it spin for a while before it was gone!
Other folks fork over the dough because they think they might have a chance of winning something. The probability of winning a Colorado Lotto jackpot is 1 in 5,245,786. It has been said that a person has a better chance of being struck by lightning than winning a jackpot, but this grossly over-estimates the chances. The fact is a person is more likely to be struck by lightning seven times in a single year than to win the jackpot! Put another way, a person who plays Lotto has the same chances of winning as a person who does not play Lotto. Against these odds, it might be said that the lottery is a tax on people who are poor at math.
But what about all the money the lottery pours into our parks? What about all the good that is being done with lottery proceeds? Of the $457 million in 2006 Colorado Lottery income, $120 million was distributed to the lottery’s beneficiaries – roughly 26%. Can we really not find any better way to support our public parks and schools?
Here’s one fascinating thing about the lottery: it’s expensive! According to the Colorado Lottery’s 2006 Annual Report, per capita spending on lottery tickets was $95! You read that right! Every man, woman, and child in the state of Colorado spent $95 on lottery tickets last year.
To put that in perspective, $95 will buy a membership at the zoo, a subscription to one of the Denver dailies, the top six best-selling DVD’s on Amazon.com, or 38 gallons of milk. A family of four could buy all four of these items for what the average Coloradan spent on lottery tickets last year.
All things considered, the lottery hasn’t exactly been a boon to our economy, neither public, private, nor personal. We have better ways to entertain ourselves, better ways to build up piles of money, and better ways to fund our parks and schools. I encourage you to think about how the lottery affects your life, and how you might better put your dollars to use.
This column originally appeared in the Greenhorn Valley View on 4-11-2007.