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There is a line of reasoning that goes as follows: Playing the Powerball lottery may not make much financial sense, but the joy you get from dreaming about winning over a billion dollars is well worth the $2. It’s a roller coaster ride that inevitably takes you back to where you started, but newly filled with memories of adventure. I am sympathetic to this line of reasoning. Pay $2 and hop on a ride you know will probably end — but who knows.

What I am not sympathetic to is the gross hypocrisy of states that legalize gambling for themselves but not for others. The lottery is nothing short of state-sanctioned gambling.

In the United States, gambling is heavily regulated by states and many times is considered illegal. Why is this not true for the states as well?

Take for instance sports gambling, which is only legal in Nevada. Betting on sports requires more skill than betting on the lottery, which entails zero skill. I have never heard of consistent lottery winners, but I have heard of consistent fantasy football winners. Now try to imagine a business setting up a lottery system where people are charged for a completely random chance to win a large pot of money.

But for states, the lottery is just too good a source of income to pass up. Run by a consortium called the Multi-State Lottery Association, all profits from the lottery are kept by the states. In 2014, Americans spent a whopping $70.15 billion buying lottery tickets — nearly seven times more than what they spent on movie tickets, according to a CNN study. States who do not live within their means find that they can pay their expenses using lottery proceeds. They argue that the money from the lottery goes to good causes like education and park cleanup. This is not necessarily true.

Firstly, oftentimes the lottery revenues go into the state’s general funds and are at best only targeted for some causes. Secondly, in many of the 44 states that partake in the Powerball lottery, the legislators take into account the revenue from lotteries before allocating money to causes like education. Subsequently, they allocate less money for education knowing that it will be augmented by the lottery revenues.

But if you are not convinced, let’s look at those who spend money on the lotteries. It is often those who do not have the means to buy lottery tickets.

A Cornell University study has shown that it is lower income individuals who are disproportionately playing the lottery. The states are encouraging the most vulnerable people to partake in a gambling scheme that is heavily stacked against them and convincing them to engage in poor financial practice. It’s almost as if they are putting up huge billboards saying, “Buy a pack of cigarettes today, because the proceeds from the taxes on these products will help finance cleaner air for your kids.”

Now, I must admit I have no problem with legalizing gambling. However I am hesitant when our government is engaging in such activity despite often purporting to be the forbearers of good practice. I also don’t encourage gambling and am all for the government discouraging people from gambling. But I think it is the height of hypocrisy for states to legalize a gambling business for themselves but not for individuals who run online poker or fantasy football websites. So once and for all, let’s stop the Powerball politics of the states or at least let’s make it fair for all and legalize other forms of gambling.

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