The Powerball – all $1.3 billion of this week’s jackpot – is evil.
Lotteries prey on the poor and the elderly. They’re rigged, hyped and glorified. The winners almost always end up as losers.
But I bought four tickets over the weekend. I’m weak. So let the dreaming begin:
The Lego Death Star? Done, boys. I'll even throw in the Millennium Falcon.
A Ford F-150 crew cab truck with a hardtop bed cover? Done, husband. How about we lift that baby and throw some 42-inchers on it, too?
See, our household’s Powerball fantasies are pretty modest.
We’d keep our jobs, pay off the mortgage and the minivan, and be conservative about the next steps, such as establishing a foundation to cure childhood cancer or creating the most comprehensive shelter and job-training program for homeless residents any city has ever seen.
So we should totally win.
That’s what we say out loud. But inside, when we zone out while washing the dishes or folding laundry, we plumb those dark places of pure greed and decadence.
A giant lake house with a dock and a vintage Chris Craft. A bay house with an Oyster 60 tied up at that deep-water dock. A pied-à-terre in Paris? A small castle in the Bohemian forest? A private island?
Which relatives would we give money to? Ha! Now you pay for being a jerk at Thanksgiving in 1998, and I remember what you said about my dress at that wedding reception in 2004! Mwahahaha.
Buying into Powerball mania is a ticket to a very dangerous place.
Like I said, lotteries are evil.
I’ve always hated them, seeing pensioners and poor folks line up at the corner store. The more miserable the person coming into that 7-Eleven looks, the bigger the likelihood that they’re there for just one thing - the not-so-golden ticket. All Charlie Buckets.
First of all, what about the scandal? A year ago, the former security director for the Multi-State Lottery Association was sentenced to 10 years in prison after he found a way to buy himself the winning tickets to a few multimillion-dollar wins.
Want to forget the scandal? Okay, let’s talk about what lotteries, sans rigging, are really about.
They are a regressive tax, a sneaky way to use human psychology to soak the less fortunate for billions - at least $70 billion in 2014, according to the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries.
The numbers underscore the dark side of this gambling sham that’s now legal in 43 states.
In many states, it’s the poorest counties bringing in the most lottery revenue. North Carolina Policy Watch found that counties where nearly a quarter of the population lived in poverty sold as much as $434 a person in lottery tickets.
Why? Maybe because most of the lotto machines are in the poorest neighborhoods, in the liquor and convenience stores and delis that are more prominent in low-income areas.
Some studies estimate that the poorest households – those bringing in less than $13,000 a year – spend an average of 9 percent of their income on lottery tickets.
But so much of the money goes to the state, lottery defenders argue.
All the good these lotto revenues are supposed to do for schools? Not so fast. It’s a “reverse Robin Hood effect,” concluded one study by two Florida professors. They looked at the scholarships funded by lotto cash in their state and found that the money harvested from Florida’s poorest residents went primarily to children from well-educated, high-income homes.
And get this – in 2009, 11 states got more tax revenue from the lottery than from corporations, according to the numbers from the Tax Foundation that tax writer extraordinaire David Cay Johnston crunched. That means a whole lot of grannies playing scratch-off are the ones funding the government more, rather than the corporations raking in billions.
I know this firsthand, always having to make that last stop with my mom whenever we ran errands so that she could buy her quick-pick.
I’ve added up the dollars she has spent on her false hopes every week and confronted her about them.
“But someone’s going to win, so why not me?” she'll say. It’s the ultimate level playing field, every $2 ticket has a chance, whether you’re rich or poor, waiter or doctor.
I know all of this. And when the win has been $100 million or $200 million and I’m assigned stories to talk to people in line for tickets about their dreams, or I have to go find the winner, I’ve had no desire to add to the pot and buy in.
Until this time. I held up the line at the ShopRite because I had no idea how to buy a ticket. And then I didn’t realize I had to pay cash.
The cashier was patient with me. I told her that I’d give her some money if I won.
And for a few hours the rest of that day, I tucked into dreams I never dared to have.
Where would the vacation house be? What, exactly, would be my dream car? And the whole family debated what we would buy and where we would go and who we would help.
It was an alternate reality, warm and fuzzy, like the second glass of wine. A little loopy, like the buzz after a joint. Hopeful, frenetic and manic, high and then higher.
The letdown is coming. And then, for the lottery addicted, the whole cycle starts again.