Americans Spend More On Lottery Tickets Than On Movies, Video Games, Music, Sports Tix And Books Combined
Not that hitting the jackpot is guaranteed to substantially improve the winner’s life. Economists at the University of Kentucky, University of Pittsburgh and Vanderbilt University collected data from 35,000 lottery winners of up to $150,000 in Florida’s Fantasy 5 lottery from 1993 to 2002. Their findings are as follows:
More than 1,900 winners declared bankruptcy within 5 years, implying that 1% of Florida lottery players (both winners and losers) go bankrupt in any given year, which is about twice the rate for the broader population.
- “Big” lottery winners, those awarded between $50,000 and $150,000 were half as likely as smaller winners to go bankrupt within 2 years of their win, however equally likely to go bankrupt 3 to 5 years after.
- 5.5% of lottery winners declared bankruptcy within 5 years of bringing home the jackpot.
- The average award for the big winners was $65,000 – more than enough to pay off the $49,000 in unsecured debt of the most financially distressed winners.
Lottery players tend to have below-average incomes, so they are probably less accustomed to budgeting when they receive a windfall. There’s also a psychological term called Mental Accounting that explains how people might treat their winnings less cautiously than money they’ve worked for. Money has come into their possession through luck, which similar to bonus payments, often induces an urge to purchase unnecessary items.
But whether you think state lotteries are awful or great, there’s another word for them: essential. In both West Virginia and Michigan, for example, lottery sales accounted for 36% of total state revenues in fiscal year 2010, and on average state with lotteries take in 11% of total revenues in the form of lotto ticket sales. We’ve included the full list in a table following the text. There are still 7 states that don’t have their own lottery systems, so the national average would be lower.
A couple of closing thoughts on what this all means:
Don’t make investment decisions when you are feeling poor. The study we cited earlier clearly shows that you are likely to buy more “lottery tickets” (think of that as a metaphor for any long shot investment) when you feel less affluent than those around you.
Lower income individuals likely pay more in “Taxes” than most economic commentators realize. Assuming that the 80/20 rule applies to lottery participation, the bulk of that $59 billion in annual receipts likely comes from 20-25 million less affluent households. That would be about $47 billion from this demographic, or roughly $2,400 per household. Yes, I get the notion that this money is handed over in the hope of a payoff. An ill-advised and mathematically unlikely hope, as it turns out. But does that mean it doesn’t count as a societal contribution?
Maybe the U.S. needs a national lottery. Yes, these games don’t necessarily encourage the best financial planning among the less affluent. But there is no denying that playing the lottery is entirely voluntary. There are probably some anti-gaming factions in government who wouldn’t like this approach, to be sure. But there’s also no doubt that the Federal budget could use the money. And, hey, you never know…