Friday, October 02, 2015

Remind me not to buy any lottery tickets next time I’m in Chicagoland

I don’t play obsessively, but I do pick up an occasional lottery ticket or two. I may even be a winner who just doesn’t realize it yet. I tend to forget about  the tickets I have until months later, when I come across a little wad of Power Ball-MegaBucks-MassCash tickets. I then do a quick check, and generally find that, in what must be somehow against the laws of probability, I never even have one number that matches. Ever.

But I play. It’s especially fun when the payouts get up there. What to do, what to do with all that free money?

While I may not be a Play-ah, I’m not philosophically opposed to state lotteries.

And yet, when I see some of the folks who spend a ton of money on tickets that, from the looks of it, they can ill afford, I wince a little at what a nastily regressive tax playing the lottery is.

When I do buy tickets, it’s usually from Bob the Key Guy who has a lottery ticket sideline. He’s just around the corner from a veterans’ shelter, and on days when the disability checks come in, I see an awful lot of guys buying an awful lot of scratch tickets. Okay. If I can dream, they can dream. Still, sometimes the lottery seems like a kind of underhanded way to extract some tax coin from those least able to pay – and to get at those who likely don’t pay much by way of normal taxes.

The lottery is, of course, also a well known way to do money laundering. If you’ve seen Black Mass, a movie about James “Whitey” Bulger, Boston’s own psychopath gangster, there’s a bit about the time Bulger “won” the lottery. Sure he did…Anyone willing to bet he didn’t make someone in Southie an offer they couldn’t refuse?

Anyway, at least if you play the lottery in Massachusetts, and you do happen to win, you can pretty much count on being able to collect your winnings.

Not so in Illinois.

The state is pretty much broke, and in a big general political mess. As a result, lottery winners aren’t getting their payouts.

Of course, given that other creditors include “state employees whose health premiums aren’t being covered and private vendors who haven’t seen checks since the last budget ran out on July 1,” it’s hard to have all that much sympathy for someone whose quick-pick payout isn’t getting made.

But the lottery is pretty much a pay-for-itself item. Folks who play the lottery drop oodles of money into the coffers and, in return, they get a fraction of that oodles back. So it would seem as if the great state of Illinois would have the money to pay those winners.

Certainly, one would hope that there’s no one out there who’s actually relying on their winnings to get them through the day to day. But if you win, you win, no?

And sometimes baby really does need a new pair of shoes.

Info source: Bloomberg

1 comment:

Rick T. said...

Lotteries can be looked at as a tax on people who never learned statistics. But I think they provide good value to many of the buyers, even the ones that never win. Between the time one buys a ticket and finds out the (statistically highly likely to be bad) result, the buyer can dream about how much their life might be improved if they did win.

That is why the best deal are those lotteries where the winners are picked only once a week; if one buys a ticket right after a drawing, then one has a full week to daydream pleasantly. That is a spectacular value for $2, or whatever the ticket costs. Scratch tickets are a bad deal because the time between buying and finding out is so short; you get so much less daydreaming time per dollar spent.

You are right that IL is run by morons. Not paying lottery tickets to save money will put them fiscally even deeper in the hole because profits from the lotteries will dry up. It would be like a company that relies on commissioned sales people for its revenues firing all the sales people to save on commission expense.

IL is our version of Greece. The government workers unions have all the other citizens in a strangle hold. It is even worse than that. Some time ago they got into the state constitution a provision that any promises made to government workers on pay or pensions can never be abrogated no matter the circumstances. If need be, a town or the state itself has to raise all taxes to infinity if that is what it takes, rather than reducing retiree pensions even a penny. Effectively, the citizens of IL are slaves to the government workers they ostensibly employ. A nasty situation, and a downward spiral--taxes are being raised, especially so in Chicago, causing businesses and people to flee to other states, requiring the remaining people to be taxed even more.