Like all New Yorkers, I’ve been bombarded by the new ads for the Lottery, promoting their scratch off games with the tagline: “What would you think about, if you didn’t have to think about money?”
The longtime advertising agency for the Lottery has a sure and humorous touch:
But the Lottery is not just “a dollar and a dream.” It’s a massive commercial undertaking. The Lottery spent $90 million in advertising last year to drum up business. As a result, New Yorkers bought $8.9 billion in lottery tickets–and received $4.2 billion in payouts. The Lottery contributed slightly over $3 billion to the NY State education budget–about 14% of all money spent on the state’s public schools.
Many studies over the years have shown that low-income families spend a higher percentage of their income on lottery tickets than affluent families, that families who live in disadvantaged neighborhoods are more likely to play the lottery and that lottery outlets tend to be clustered in low-income neighborhoods.
There have also been interesting studies that ask why this is so: A 2008 experimental study in the Journal of Behavioral Decision Making found that participants, made aware of their low-income status, may play such unlikely odds because of a sense that there is a uniquely level playing field where everyone, rich or poor, has the same chance of winning. (emphasis added.) Poor people know instinctively that the system is rigged. Housing, education and jobs–most of the basic necessities of life–are either sub-standard or unavailable in poor neighborhoods. Yet somehow the myth of the lottery persists.
So, I ask myself the question: what would I think about if I didn’t have to think about money? Maybe I’d think about prize-linked savings programs that shift the psychology of “the big win” away from the lottery and into no-lose savings accounts.
One thing is for certain. I’d think about how our nation has so lost our way that the sucker bet of the lottery is, for so many disenfranchised and struggling families, the only hope for a better future.