The $1.4 Billion Dollar Trick to Make Us Accept Income Inequality

African American businesswoman throwing money in the air
African American businesswoman throwing money in the air

My local grocery store, Publix, installed a lottery ticket dispenser up near their entrance. It glows with bright orange and green plastic, beckoning you to come over. The damn thing will take just about any bill--that $10 could be old, crumpled, and buckshot-ridden, but the lottery machine will still accept it! Used to be that I only bought lottery tickets on long road trips at far-flung filling stations in Nowhere, Georgia. Now the lottery corporations have figured out how to take their games out of seedy corner convenience stores and put them in respectable places. Publix--where shopping is a pleasure--is the nicest, most mainstream place that sells lotto tickets in town. When I pop in to buy a bread and eggs, I'll often spend my leftover pocket money on a scratch-off ticket.

Lately, I've found myself playing the lottery more and more because getting tickets has never been easier. There are scratch-offs from $1-$20, as well as an assortment of Cash-4, Draw-5, Match-3 kind of games I never play. And, of course, the ticket terminals sell Mega Millions and Powerball. You can even scan winning tickets and claim them; however, the terminals don't dispense cash, only more tickets.

This is the thing about lottos--they are designed to trap you into a pattern of perpetual playing. We don't buy lottery tickets to win; we buy them to have a $2 moment of hope. Lottery tickets give us a fantasy of stepping into the world of the wealthy even though we might be an everyday schmoe. Buying a ticket is about all the dream beach houses, butlers, and trips to Bali the jackpot might give you. Instead of addressing income inequality, lotteries make us accept our growing class divide. Lotteries encourage us to celebrate unequal distribution of wealth in our society--afterall, what's the point of winning if you can't be richer than everybody else? Lotteries rap themselves up in air of public benefit, even though it's doubtful how much they help us. They say lotteries are for education, for helping people, and for ending inequality; however, they might serve to worsen what they claim to fix.

Lotteries take money from vulnerable populations, and distribute them unequally, but give the illusion of helping the public. The poor and the uneducated play the lottery the most, and for them it takes a big chunk of their income. In many places, like where I live in Georgia, lottery players are more likely to be minorities as well. The burden of lottery play rests on the shoulders of the most at-risk families in our state, but is it helping them? Truthfully, the HOPE Scholarship in Georgia is more likely to help students who already would have attended college, even without the couple hundred bucks from lotto money every semester. The one lottery initiative that seems to benefit lottery players and those most at need are prekindergarten programs.

We should demand that our state lotteries find ways to help those who need it the most and play it the most. Lotteries should not be regressive taxes on the poor and uneducated to give a few bucks to the upwardly mobile who are less likely to play. As lotteries become more ubiquitous in our society, we should ask ourselves if they are helping or hurting us. Do they give more people education, and thus help more people succeed? Or do they just reinforce, make us accept, and even celebrate income inequality? If lotteries only blind us to our country's growing class struggle, we should dump them or use them to truly fix our problems.