Acton Institute Powerblog

Why Everybody Loses With the Powerball

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When it comes to government programs for redistributing income, nothing is quite as malevolently effective as state lotteries. Every year state lotteries redistribute the income of mostly poor Americans (who spend between 4-9 percent of their income on lottery tickets) to a handful of other citizens—and to the state’s coffers.

A prime example is the Powerball jackpot. The largest jackpot in U.S. history—now an estimated $700 million—will be available this Saturday. But even if someone wins this time around, millions of Americans will have lost.

The odds of winning were 1 in 175 million, which means that if every person in America had bought a ticket, only two would won. The chances of a single ticket holder winning the Powerball were only slightly higher than meeting a random stranger on the street who hands you a million dollars.

Yet despite the harm it does to our financially vulnerable neighbors, Christians—who are called to seek justice for the poor—often participate and encourage this activity. Even more disconcerting is that the state not only allows, but participates, in this exploitation.

In an article for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Jordan Ballor explains how lotteries allow the state to prey on the poor:

Public polling has confirmed the fears of many who oppose such government-promoted gambling: the poorest among us are contributing much more to lottery revenues than those with higher incomes. One poll found that people who played the lottery with an income of less than $20,000 annually spent an average of $46 per month on lottery tickets. That comes out to more than $550 per year and it is nearly double the amount spent in any other income bracket.

The significance of this is magnified when we look deeper into the figures. Those with annual incomes ranging from $30,000 to $50,000 had the second-highest average — $24 per month, or $288 per year. A person making $20,000 spends three times as much on lottery tickets on average than does someone making $30,000. And keep in mind that these numbers represent average spending. For every one or two people who spend just a few bucks a year on lotteries, others spend thousands.

Read more . . .

Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).


  • Steve Vinzinski

    Joe you have answered your question.If i comprehend you correctly the poorer spend more.To be honest with you I did buy ten tickets for Wednesday’s drawing and tonight’s drawing.If there is no winner tonight the drawing could go to $1.3 billion next week.The only time I bother is when the amount is substantial.In reality I do not think I have bought tickets twenty times in my lifetime.We go down to the casinos in Atlantic City two or three times a year to see Frankie Valli,Paul Anka five or six times.Likewise we visit to to Frankie Avalon,Bobbie Rydell and Fabian.Also Gary Puckett,Bobbie Vinton and similar performers including the late Lesley Gore.I do gamble pennies and never lost of course my best evening was a profit of $84.00.I would think some of the power ball funds go to the Prescription fund for the senior citizens.Good luck have a nice week.