Earlier this week, the Associate Press published an interesting article about who buys most lottery tickets in Arkansas.
The article’s findings confirmed what other states have found to be true of their lotteries: The bulk of lottery players are our fellow citizens who don’t make very much money and are probably playing the lottery more out of desperation than for fun.
You can read the full article here.
There are two very interesting quotes in the article—both made by Arkansas Lottery Director Ernie Passailaigue.
The first is a very blunt moment of truth, where Passailaigue says, “If you have a dollar you can buy a ticket,” but then he admits, “You probably won’t win anything.”
What he’s referring to is the fact that your odds of breaking even on a scratch off ticket are about 3 or 4 to 1—depending on the ticket—and your odds of hitting the Powerball jackpot are over 190 million to 1.
What it seems the Lottery Director is implying is that buying one ticket is probably not enough, if you want to win. You have to buy lots of lottery tickets.
This doesn’t seem very responsible, given the fact that this is an article about Arkansas’ poorest citizens buying the most lottery tickets. It’s almost as if the Arkansas Lottery Director is telling them, “The reason you haven’t won the jackpot yet is because you just aren’t buying enough lottery tickets.” The fact that the lottery is being played by people who can least afford to buy lottery tickets should be cause for concern.
The second quote that piqued my interest was a statement by Passailaigue that the Lottery Commission plans to do a study this fall on who buys lottery tickets, but that he already had expectations about its results.
He cites a South Carolina study that said most lottery players don’t play every week, and that 66% of its players spent between $1 and $5 when they played.
I’ve looked at studies like this one, and I can tell you about a serious flaw in the way they’re handled: They don’t delve deep enough.
Studies like the one the Lottery Commission is planning typically only ask a couple of real questions about lottery play: Do you ever play the lottery, and How much do you spend when you do play?
What they don’t look at is the fact that in most states, about 80% of the lottery’s revenue comes from roughly 20% of its players—players who are poor and playing the lottery out of desperation.
In other words, while it may be said that people of all walks of life do occasionally play the lottery, there’s a very small group of people doing most of the playing on a regular basis. Studies like the one the Arkansas Lottery Commission is planning stop short of really examining this fact, and do very little to raise awareness about problem gambling and gambling addiction.
While it seems the Arkansas Lottery Director’s mind is made up as to what the upcoming study will find, I hope the Lottery Commissioners will take a more open approach, and authorize a much more comprehensive study that takes a hard look at who is playing the lottery the most rather than who is playing the lottery at all.
If the Director is confident about who really plays the lottery in Arkansas, he shouldn’t have any reservations about a study that goes a little deeper than the one done by the state lottery in South Carolina.