Powerball vs. bingo: how did we let this happen?


The article above contains good analysis of the current Powerball frenzy. The commentary, however, omits a crucial point about the nature of government run gambling schemes. Powerball and other lotteries are scammy _because_ they are organized by government. It's fine if people want to buy tickets for a legal, privately organized game. That's like bingo. In fact, Powerball is like bingo, except you play bingo in a church basement. Either way, you draw numbers out of a big tumbler. On bingo night, you walk home with twenty-five, fifty dollars if you have a lucky night. Your church takes something off the top for its operating expenses.

In the government's lottery, it scams contributions from millions of people, collecting 1.6 billion dollars, and keeps almost half of it when someone wins the prize. Tell me which looks better, which seems more morally sound: the locally organized and sponsored, privately played bingo night, or the government organized and sponsored, publicly played Powerball?

The answer to that one is easy: the public lottery isn't exactly a scam, as government doesn't lie about what it's doing, yet it promotes the lottery the same way DraftKings promotes it fantasy football game. Sign up to win! You don't have to pay a lot for a chance to make out big. I don't fault DraftKings for trying to sign up new customers for what is transparently a gambling operation. It's a private company, doing what private companies are supposed to do. I do fault governnment for trying to sign up new customers, for what is transparently a revenue raising operation.

Once more, how in the world did we allow government to become a repository for gambling? How can anyone feel good about that? Gambling is a private activity: see Silver Linings Playbook for an example of how neighborhood gambling is supposed to work, when it doesn't occur in a church basement. Betting takes place among friends. It's a social activity. It is not an activity used to raise revenue for governments. That is illegitimate and morally unsound. If government wants to raise revenue, let it do so via taxes that citizens and their representatives vote on. Taxation is supposed to be a legislative activity that fosters public commitment to honest government, not a game of chance that plays on people's fantasies about easy riches.

See today's post at The Jeffersonian, http://sgreffenius.com/, for more.

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