Everyday Ethics

lottery_LottoBalls.jpgThere’s a lot of chatter on the ‘net today about the lottery. Seems someone from South Dakota just won the Florida lottery, to the tune of 222 million dollars.

Nice going. 
I’m sure that unnamed person will suddenly have a lot of new friends–and second cousins once removed–coming out of the woodwork. But how about the other fifty kazillion losing tickets people shelled out money for?
Are they the victims of some unethical, predatory scheme on the part of the state?
There have been a lot of arguments over the years that lotto victimizes those who can least afford it. (I found an interesting, if one-sided dissection of the arguments regarding the immorality of lotto in a random article in an Arkansas religious publication. Check it out if you want to read some of them.) The basic gist is that poor people are scammed into throwing their hard-earned money away, and the state shouldn’t be preying on them.
I disagree, and here’s why.

While I cede the point that poor people who might otherwise be saving those dollars, or spending them on local vendors, are instead gambling them on a fairly hopeless cause, and the state is, indeed, sponsoring such a dupe, to this I say, “Yeah, so? What’s your point?” I mean, have you ever actually met anyone, rich or poor, who expected to win?

Well, OK, I confess I do find myself somewhat surprised–and quite put out–when I discover I have not only not won but also have not hit so much as a single number when I play the NY MegaMillions. But heck, I need only buy a ticket or two before I learn my lesson–winning is astronomically unlikely. If I choose to play, I know it’s tantamount to tossing my money on the ground.
Except that it’s actually not that bad, because the lottery money goes toward public goods like education. (Whether it’s distributed fairly between the schools according to who spent the money for the tickets is another question.) People know this when they play. So what’s the big deal?
Saying that poor people are being enticed to throw their money away in disproportionate numbers seems like prejudiced reasoning to me. Unless we’re going to outlaw gambling altogether (and I suppose we can do that if we choose), why are we assuming poor people lack the mental capacity to calculate the odds against winning? I mean, I’m bad at math, but really, it’s just common sense. And, even if “they” were being hopelessly foolish in a way wealthier people were not, should we, as a state, or a nation, be regulating what any people are spending their money on? Can we stop the drunk dad from blowing his paycheck at the bar when he should be putting it toward his family? Do we want to live in a country where our lives are dictated to such a degree by the state?
I suppose one might argue we don’t have to stop this kind of gambling, but we don’t have to sponsor it either. 

What’s your opinion?
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