As the Powerball jackpot rose late last week, so did the Powerball backlash. The contemporary citizen might revel in devotion to the latest comic-book film adaptation, but the lottery is still considered the lowest of low culture. No intelligent person, many opined in advance of Saturday’s (winnerless) drawing, would buy a Powerball ticket.
The dismissal is part of a general decline in lottery play, especially among younger people. Players are bored with draw games and desensitized to giant jackpots. Among 18-to-34-year-olds, lottery sales have either sunk to new lows or never got started in the first place. Millennials may never have had a relationship with lottery games, either because they opt out of gambling, or because they prefer Texas Hold ‘Em or virtual micropayments in apps and games, or just because they’re not accustomed to going inside the gas station and paying cash for a ticket. And players of all ages are finally cluing in to the lottery’s tendency to act as a regressive tax that puts an undue burden on the poor, who spend more of their income on tickets and have fewer options for long-term financial planning.
But beyond social context, it’s the idea that the lottery is just plain dumb that drives the backlash. Some have called Powerball a stupidity tax instead of a regressive tax, even if there’s an implicit connection between poverty and educational opportunity. The Powerball jackpot, which has grown to $1.3 billion in its annuitized form in advance of Wednesday’s drawing, boasts a 1 in 292.2 million chance of winning. Anyone who fails to understand these incredibly terrible odds, the argument goes, is just throwing money away. And those who throw money away, the argument continues, are just failing to apply reason to a straightforward math problem.