Powerball: Our ‘National Disgrace’?

Lisa Misner —  January 18, 2016

The weekend weatherman surprised us, not with his forecast but with an off-hand remark. Following a news story about the mounting Powerball jackpot that promised to make someone a billionaire, the anchor cheerleading for Lotto asked him, “What would you do if you won? Where would you be the next day?”

“I’d be right here,” he responded, “because I don’t play the lottery.”

Good for you, weather guy. You’d expect Russell Moore and Al Mohler to sound off on the folly of the lottery. And Baptist pastors were certain to preach and blog on the sinfulness of gambling. But the TV meteorologist? And what about the law professor at a secular university who declared this massive state-run lottery “our national disgrace.”

Ultimately three winners split almost $1.6-Billion in what a radio reporter called “a shot at the American dream.”

Really? The American dream once was owning your own home and being able to send your kids to college. But as that dream moves farther out of reach for many people, a new concept of the “dream” has been blown out of proportion by greed. Perhaps it’s greed that’s our national disgrace.

Many would nominate abortion as chief of our national sins, and it certainly qualifies. Or moral decline or child abuse or drug use or racism or gun violence or failing education or our inability to shut down terrorists. But what prompted Colorado attorney and Salon writer Paul Campos to cite Powerball as such a disgrace is the impact it has on those who can least afford to play the “game.”

Americans spent $70-Billion on state lotteries in 2014. That’s an average of $285 per U.S. adult. But only half of the adult population buys tickets, so the average amount spent by actual players is about $570. And, as Campos points out, 20% of the players buy 70% of the tickets. One in eight U.S. adults spends $1,800 per year on the lottery, including in equal proportions households making less that $15,000 per year.

Campos contends “what drives much of the spending on lottery tickets, and especially the spending by poor people, is not some lighthearted search for a cheap thrill, but genuine despair….The eagerness with which almost every state government exploits the desperation of its most hopeless citizens is a national disgrace.”

Quotable: The lottery’s real losers

“…The reality is that, regardless of who wins the Powerball, it is the poorest in our communities that are guaranteed to lose.

Casinos and lotteries are marketed directly to those people who most feel compelled to get more money quickly, and therefore, have less hesitancy to spending part—or all—of their income trying to do so.

It’s not hard to see that gambling is a form of economic predation. Gambling grinds the faces of the poor into the ground.”

– Russell Moore (from russellmoore.com)

“Many economists have noted… that most lottery sales, and most lottery sales outlets, are actually in the most economically disadvantaged neighborhoods in American cities.

Governments are targeting the most economically disadvantaged, knowing that they are most likely to buy lottery tickets because they feel they have very little to lose and because they are easily persuaded that there is at least a possibility, albeit a very small possibility, that they will all of the sudden strike it rich.

We need to understand that the state is putting itself in the position of economically exploiting its own citizens. As one major economist famously remarked, a lottery is basically a tax on the stupid.”

– Al Mohler  (from The Briefing, 1/11/2016)


Lisa Misner


Lisa is IBSA Social Media/Public Policy Manager. A Missouri native, she earned a Master of Arts in Communications from the University of Illinois. Her writing has received awards from the Baptist Communicators Association and the Evangelical Press Association.