Powerball: Florida's newest sucker bet

He that hastens to be rich hath an evil eye, and considers not that poverty shall come upon him.

— Proverbs 28:22

Hey, make no mistake — I am firmly on the side of vice.

I am all in favor of gamblin' and drinkin'.

And if some folks want to pay money to go see other folks dance naked around poles, that's fine by me.

None of my business. None of the government's.

On the other hand, when it comes to vice, I would just as soon that the government itself not be running the racket in question.

For example, I would be opposed to the government running its own strip clubs.

The government would do a lousy job, anyway. You'd have to fill out a bunch of forms or something to get in. The government would hire a contractor who installed the poles all wrong, and then the whole thing would have to be redone, over budget.

For my money, the same principle holds for gambling — let's keep the government out of it.

Instead, Florida is expanding its state-run gambling racket. This week we joined the multistate Powerball lottery, with the first drawing to be held Wednesday.

When historians look back at this period, they will be struck by how the institutions of American government increasingly turned to gambling instead of taxation to finance the democracy.

That's one reason state-run lotteries are inherently corrupting and weakening.

A second reason is that they prey on suckers.

The lottery is the stupidest bet possible. The chances of winning Powerball are 1 in 195-million — beyond comprehension. Even the odds of winning the old-fashioned Lotto are 1 in 23-million.

The lottery folks like to say it's all for "fun."

But their marketing material does not say, "Look, this is just for fun. It's much more likely you'll be struck by lightning or hit by a truck than that actually win."

Just the opposite. It's all about How Much You Can Win. The Florida Lottery and Powerball even have a extra sucker bet, where you can pay more in exchange for adding more to the jackpot you aren't going to win anyway — at the same ridiculously bad odds.

A lot of folks shrug and say, "Who cares if suckers waste their money?" But this isn't Dickens' London. As a society we should care. One study last year reported that 20 percent of regular lottery players considered it to be their main retirement strategy.

And so, instead of buying Powerball tickets this week, consider these alternatives:

(1) Take a $1 bill out of your wallet and tear it into little pieces. It will be an unusual little thrill, and your odds of winning will be about the same anyway.

(2) Roll up your $1, set it on fire and use it to light your barbecue or a cigar.

(By the way, about those first two suggestions: Strictly speaking it's illegal to destroy U.S. currency, but it seems like a pretty good bet that you won't get caught.)

(3) Stash that $1 somewhere on your person and keep it handy. Without the slightest hesitation or judgment, give it to the next guy who asks you for spare change.

(4) Give it to your school, your church, the United Way, the SPCA or some other good charity.

(5) Throw it down on the sidewalk and leave it to make somebody else's day.

(6) Or just send it to me.

Powerball: Florida's newest sucker bet 01/05/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 7, 2009 4:45pm]

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