North Carolina lottery is ‘essentially a scam’

North Carolina state legislators are considering a proposal to bar the sale of lottery tickets to people who qualify for welfare or are in bankruptcy.

This effort reeks of that weird, seething resentment of the poor that twists so much of American policy — reshaping it around the driving principle that we must, at all costs, make sure no tax dollars are ever spent in a way that would give any poor person, anywhere, even a single moment’s pleasure. At best, the plan represents a heavy-handed, micro-meddling paternalism that treats the poor as a sub-citizen class subject to special rules and regulations, supposedly for their own good.

But I’m also sympathetic to part of House Majority Leader Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam’s argument here, because Stam is right about this much: State lotteries are a rip-off and they prey on the poor.

Consider the most basic games: the Pick 3 or Pick 4 daily number games.

What are the odds of winning the Pick 3? 1 in 1,000. Is the jackpot for a $1 bet $1,000 or greater? Not even close.

What are the odds of winning the Pick 4? 1 in 10,000. Is the jackpot for a $1 bet $10,000 or greater? Not even close.

These are lousy games. They’re predatory games that stack the deck. You’ve got much better odds at the slots or at the track.

When Stam says games structured like that are “essentially a scam,” he’s telling the truth.

Stam is just leaving out part of that truth — that this scam is North Carolina’s, and almost every states’, response to his Republican party’s decades-long war against adequate revenue through legitimate taxation.

You can oppose the predatory scam of the state lotteries. Or you can be a reflexively anti-tax disciple of Grover Norquist. But you cannot do both.

Stam also said that some of the North Carolina lottery advertising is “just fraudulent,” according to the Raleigh News & Observer.

That’s also true. State lottery advertising regularly violates the law governing the advertising of every other type of contest, raffle or sweepstakes. But state lotteries are, legally, allowed to be fraudulent. State lotteries are exempt from truth-in-advertising laws.

Stam is a North Carolina Republican, and I’m pretty sure there’s not much that he and I would agree on politically. But if he introduced legislation to remove the lotteries’ exemption from truth-in-advertising laws, I’d back that effort 100 percent.

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  • rupaul

    OK, it turns out the map I remembered was per capita lottery sales, which makes sense I guess. I was wrong about some urban areas, though Raleigh and Charlotte are low (but so are most western counties.) I was right about where the highest sales were. Anyway, here’s the map link:

  • If you take an odds bet in craps, the payout is mathematically the same as the odds. That’s not the same as the near-50-50 odds of a red/black bet in roulette, but it does mean that statistically, you’ll break even long-term.

  • The_L1985

     If you know what you’re doing, you have odds of 40:50 in blackjack, too.  Slightly worse odds, better payoff if you win.

  • Lori

    Actually, if you want to bet with a decent chance of winning play craps. The House odds are less than 1% where for roulette they’re over 5%. People get scared off of craps because it’s complicated to explain and they get confused. (My ex is the only person whose explination ever made sense to me.) The thing is, craps is one of those games where you don’t strictly have to understand it to play with decent odds. There are 3 or 4 bets that are pretty much always a good idea. If you start with a decent enough bankroll to get you through any bad streaks and you don’t get crazy with your bets you can have fun at a craps table for a long time without losing much money and you even have a realistic chance of making  some.

    Pai gow poker is another game I know pretty well which has better odds than roulette. I think House odds are like 2-3% on that. It’s way less complicated than craps, but there are also no bets you can make on autopilot, so you actually have to grasp the rules before you start.

    I think even non-card counting blackjack actually has significantly better odds than roulette if you can manage to remember the basics of when to stand and split and such. I never did well with blackjack and so stopped playing. The only time I ever made enough money in Vegas to pay for the trip it was playing pai gow poker. I knew enough to play smart and hit a streak. That was the first time I really got how people get addicting to gambling. Winning is hella fun. For people who are wired to also get a charge of a sort from losing it must be really difficult to walk away.

  • AnonymousSam

    “Sure, let’s move forward starting on that assumption. Since nothing a poor person does will lead to upward mobility, you won’t object to giving them a hand through your taxes, correct? Because if a person can just as easily move upward out of the blue, then surely the inverse is also correct, and as we’ve established, all your skills and years of job experience don’t actually amount to anything… let’s just say it would behoove you to create a safety net that’ll save your ass if you should happen to fall into the fire.”

  • P J Evans

     You have better odds of being hit by lightning than of winning a big lottery prize. (Buying a ticket once in a while is probably okay. Expecting to win is not.)

  • You’d think, but my god, talk about crabs in a bucket symdrome. (-_-)

  • David Starner

     Living in Vegas, I wish they would cut down on local gambling. Because you know what the casinos in Vegas are like? They’re “little places sort of apologetically tucked out of the way and isolated”. Half the strip malls in the Vegas area have Dotties, a bunch of slot machines for locals. Even places like K-Mart and 7-11 have slot machines. The view from the inside is quite a bit different from the outside. I’m just happy that I can’t gamble; I can spend my food budget on books, but not on slot machines.

  • AnonymousSam

    The funny thing is, I’ve been accused of that for interjecting my John Donne inspired beliefs into a conversation.

    “You just don’t want people to succeed, so you want to pull them down into failure with yourself!”

  • I remember driving through northern Nevada and being a little O_O at the gambling-thingies-everywhere phenomenon.

  • Will Hennessy

    I’m too lazy to read all the comments, and it’s probably already been said, but even so it’s worth repeating that these are the same people touting “small government” who are trying to legislate these things, giving their governments more power.

  • The_L1985

     The Las Vegas airport terminal has a room full of slot machines.  It’s like they were running out of places to cram the things.

  • rizzo

     Ugh, even my parents, who are good at math, buy into it unfortunately.  The PA lottery is really good at making people think they can be rich.

    Oh and screw Corbett, he’s a friggen crook.

  • EH, I buy lottery tickets. It’s ~$10 a week and I can afford the hit.

    I have no other vices, except for a rather unfortunate tendency to Slack at work ;)

  • Lori

    The think the purpose of the slots at the Vegas airport is pretty clearly to squeeze out every last tourist nickel. Flight delayed? Cool, you can gamble some more.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

     The one time I’ve been to Las Vegas, the departing airport was the only place I did any gambling.  I won 13$.  :D

  • EllieMurasaki

    I think the fifty-fifty fundraiser/lottery thing is perfectly ethical. Dollar per ticket or six tickets for five dollars, half the money goes to the host organization, half to whoever’s ticket is pulled. Assuming twenty tickets at $1, that’s winnings of $10, odds of winning 1 in 20. Is it a scam by Fred’s definition? Or does the fact that the fifty-fifty drawing is always in my experience done by an organization that the ticket buyers already support (actually in my experience it’s always done by a square dance club, and the ticket buyers are all either people who’ve paid that club dues or people who’ve paid that club admission for the dance) render it not-scam?

  • EllieMurasaki

    Now you’re lucky to get 0.5% on savings, and maybe 3% on CDs. That doesn’t even keep up with inflation — so in a very real sense, telling the poor to put savings in the bank is actually counterproductive, if your goal is to get them out of poverty.

    Yes and no. Some money in bank is essential to getting out of poverty, if one doesn’t want the next major unexpected expense to dump one straight back in. Having cash on hand to cover that expense means not having to ask for a loan, and having cash on hand for a couple months of living expenses means having a cushion in case of job loss.

    Trouble of course being getting that money in the bank in the first place. Especially if local rules re food stamps or whatever have a maximum assets bit…

  • EllieMurasaki

    I’m not even sure if they air it at all on a regular basis these days
    Before Jeopardy. At least around here. But we get that station from Philadelphia, so it’s not our lottery…

  • EllieMurasaki

    Class mobility shouldn’t be and mostly isn’t a thing, Sam, didn’t you get the memo?

  • EllieMurasaki

    That’s something different, though, unless I’m misunderstanding. I understand ‘crabs in a bucket’, except I usually hear ‘cooking pot’, to be people keeping other people in the same situation trapped when any of them tries to escape. What Sam’s talking about is people in a different situation, a better situation, making sure the people in the worse situation stay down.

    Something Brad Hicks on Livejournal said once: the way to get out of poverty is to never look back. Never offer a helping hand to people who are still stuck. Save all my resources for me me me me. I don’t know how true that is overall. For some it certainly is, and that worries me.

  • AnonymousSam

    But nrmble grble BOOTSHTRAPSH!