December 10, 2002
It's still a tax on stupidity

The state Lottery Commission is considering changes to Lotto Texas, the state's main lottery, with the intent of providing bigger prizes but lower odds of winning, despite the fact that the same change made over two years ago did not have this effect.

Officials concede that sweeping changes adopted 2 1/2 years ago -- which included jacking up the odds -- have failed to revitalize the game, but they're considering trying their luck again.

"I'm concerned about the fact that it hasn't been as productive as I expected it to be when we made the last change," C. Thomas Clowe, chairman of the three-member Texas Lottery Commission, said in today's editions of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "The major reason is because the players have had such good luck. They hit those jackpots more than was anticipated."

Lotto is the game in which players choose six numbers from a pool of 54, hoping to match all six in the twice-weekly drawing to collect the jackpot that starts at $4 million and increases each time no one wins the top prize.

But despite the 25.8 million-to-1 odds against winning, Texas lottery officials are seeing too many jackpots being won at the relatively low levels of $4 million and $6 million that prevent the surge in ticket sales that the state counts on to help fill its coffers.

Officials thought they had solved the problem when they increased the numbers in play from 50 to 54 in July 2000, when the odds against winning the jackpot were only 15.8 million-to-1.

The current proposal would increase the odds to 45 million-to-1 under a variety of scenarios.

They say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. That may not apply just yet, but state lottery officials can consider themselves to be officially on notice.

One persistent lottery critic said state officials are running a risk of killing interest in Lotto Texas for the game's most loyal players.

"They are deliberately trying to design a game that people cannot win, and that's highway robbery," said Dawn Nettles, a Garland resident who publishes a newsletter for lotto players. "To say I'm against it would be putting it mildly."

In practical terms, there's not a whole lot of difference between odds of 16 million to one, 26 million to one, and 45 million to one, and anyone who bases the decision on whether or not to buy a lottery ticket on that difference really needs a course in remedial mathematics. It's okay to have "a dollar and a dream", as the New York Lottery slogan used to say, but please don't plan your retirement fund around it.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on December 10, 2002 to Jackpot! | TrackBack

You're so right, Charles. One should never try and make the lottery their own retirement plan. I mean right now, as I look at my own 401(k) ... wait a minute ... that number used to be higher. What the hell??? Those tickets are still a buck, right?

Posted by: Greg Wythe on December 10, 2002 2:20 PM

I hate it; I hate it; I hate it. It is wrong and repugnant. But I have to yield to the logic that the lottery is the best possible tax: a voluntary kind. It is terribly regressive, yet I cannot even complain there: if the stupid are more inclined to be poor than rich, then the poor are more inclined to play the lottery, and that's just what happens. But I still detest the damned thing.

Posted by: B. K. Oxley (binkley) on December 10, 2002 2:36 PM

I liked New York's slogan from when I lived there: "Hey, you never know." If a state is going to have a lottery, it should market what players are really buying: a fantasy.

Posted by: Matt on December 13, 2002 1:40 PM