By John Stark
Lottery players sometimes rationalize their expenditures by telling themselves, “It’s for a good cause.” That is partly true, but the amount of lottery revenue that goes to public services is surprisingly small in some states.
This report from John Schoen of NBC News says that in Rhode Island, just 11 cents of every lottery dollar goes to public purposes. At the other end of the spectrum is Oregon, with 50 cents.
Washington state’s lottery reported 32.6 cents per dollar for public purposes in fiscal year 2012.
Schoen’s lengthy report contains much criticism of lotteries as another regressive tax that gets paid by lower-income people. If the lottery is a tax, it is the only optional tax I am aware of. But it is a fact that few lottery dollars come from the two percent. If you’re already rich, what’s the appeal of a lottery ticket?
(I recall reading a news feature, many years ago, about a woman who won an enormous lottery prize that ruined her life–not because it ruined her relationships with other people or any of that stuff, but because her main entertainment in life had been buying lottery tickets and going to bingo games, and once she became rich she had no idea what to do with herself.)