A tax on people who are bad at math

That's how lotteries are often described. The odds of winning the top prize in the Mega Millions lottery is more than 600 times worse than your odds of getting hit by lightning. Yet people continue to play. Why?

Professor Lloyd Cohen suggests people aren't paying for the chance so much as they are paying for the dream. They enjoy fantasizing about winning, the same way people enjoy reading lifestyle magazines or watching movies of the rich and famous. And at one dollar a pop, a lottery ticket is not only cheaper than these other forms of entertainment, it actually has a chance -- no matter how infinitesimally tiny -- of actually paying off.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

thats so dumb

posted on Wed, 03/21/2007 - 9:38am
Liza's picture
Liza says:

I totally buy this theory.

I rarely, if ever, buy lottery tickets. But when I do, it's because of a big potential payout, and I spend the evening before the drawing thinking about what I'd do with the money if I won. Sometimes we even do it as a family even, comparing dreams and sometimes being surprised at what we learn about each other.

I know I won't win. But it's fun thinking about the endowments I'd create and the things I'd do if money were no obstacle.

posted on Wed, 03/21/2007 - 11:33am
mdr's picture
mdr says:

I always liked what writer Fran Liebowitz had to say about it:

"I figure you have the same chances of winning the lottery whether you play it or not."

posted on Wed, 03/21/2007 - 1:00pm
Gene's picture
Gene says:

I had wanted to use that in the post, but couldn't figure out how to make it fit! Thanks! ;-)

posted on Wed, 03/21/2007 - 4:27pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Tell that to the winners

posted on Fri, 01/27/2012 - 7:33pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

even though i hate math, i think its ridiculous that people are taxed for being bad at math.

posted on Wed, 03/21/2007 - 1:13pm
Gene's picture
Gene says:

It's a joke. People aren't really taxed. What it means is, the government sells the lottery tickets, and you'd have to be pretty bad at math to think buying one was a good idea.

posted on Wed, 03/21/2007 - 3:27pm
Victoria's picture
Victoria says:

Math is a great thing in your life and it may be tough sometimes but it is an important thing in your use it all the time in almost everything... Even though I don't like science calculating it is the funnest part! oh ya math is good... ya know

posted on Fri, 03/23/2007 - 2:06pm
tis-chick-s0-fly's picture
tis-chick-s0-fly says:

That is really lame for being who is being tax for not being really good in math. Ugh that is really stupid people getting taxed for not being good in math..

posted on Fri, 10/24/2008 - 12:54pm
JGordon's picture
JGordon says:

I know!!!

I think people should just get taxed for not being thorough readers, you know?

posted on Fri, 10/24/2008 - 1:11pm
kwlundy's picture
kwlundy says:

this is DO -- can't change the user name -- stuck on kwlundy. In any case, if you buy a lottery ticket your chance of winning is not zero. More properly it approaches zero. The difference? You do have a chance at winning, however slight, and, yes, you can think about early retirement or buying your dream home or whatever. Once again, Gene comments on human behavior and psychology which is outside his realm.

posted on Fri, 10/24/2008 - 1:39pm
Gene's picture
Gene says:

The line you refer to was posted not by me, but by mdr. A tax on poor readers, indeed!

As a human, I would argue that our behavior and psychology are well within my realm.

posted on Tue, 10/28/2008 - 2:18pm
DO's picture
DO says:

In some ways being human makes it difficult to understand other humans' behavior. Hard to get outside ones own perceptions, emotions, experience, etc.

posted on Fri, 10/31/2008 - 1:25pm
Gene's picture
Gene says:

Then that would make us equal.

posted on Sun, 11/09/2008 - 7:33pm
Chicken man's picture
Chicken man says:

that stinks

posted on Sat, 10/25/2008 - 4:56pm
Thor's picture
Thor says:

It appears the tough economy is at least putting the squeeze on people betting on the ponies. Here are more details. No word on if the tight economy is improving people's mathematical understanding.

posted on Tue, 10/28/2008 - 2:47pm
ricky13's picture
ricky13 says:

every one is good at something like i'm good at math

posted on Fri, 10/31/2008 - 1:29pm
Meghan's picture
Meghan says:

Dave Ramsey says this, too. It's too true! :)

posted on Fri, 03/06/2009 - 6:37pm

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