Texas’ Bad Bet on Gambling

The croupier holds poker cards in his hands at a table in a casino. (Photo from Getty Images.)

The guys in front of me in line are not what you’d normally think of as prosperous-looking, but I guess they are doing pretty well. These are not layabouts but working men of some description, Spanish-speaking, pickup-driving, jeans tucked into paint-splattered work boots, and they are getting off work—I hope they are not going to work—early-ish on weekday morning. They have stopped by the local 7-Eleven to buy one tallboy of beer each, some shrink-wrapped corporate snack food, and—because this is America, baby!—what looks like about $60 worth of lottery tickets. 

It could be less than $60. It could be more: The grossest thing in these United States of America at this moment is not Slate’s pornographic advice columns or Donald Trump’s post-indictment Festivus-style airing of grievances or people who use their speakerphones or play loud mobile-phone games in public without earphones or the Never-Ending Battle of the Drag Queens or anything like that: The grossest, nastiest, most shame-inducing thing you’ll run into leaving the sanctuary of your own home right now is offered by the Texas Lottery: a lottery scratch-off ticket that costs—and I am not making this up—$100. Let me repeat: That’s a lottery scratcher priced at 100 gently depreciating U.S. dollars


That’s two days’ wages for a minimum-wage worker in Texas. I don’t think the guys picking up morning beers at 7-Eleven today are minimum-wage workers—if you have a truck and a good pair of work boots and are able-bodied, there’s no reason to be making minimum wage in Texas—but they aren’t exactly the Gelandewagen demographic, either. And the lottery is, disproportionately, a poor man’s game: Households earning $10,000 a year or less typically spend a full 6 percent of their income on lottery tickets. As the Focus for Health Foundation reports, the households in the lowest income quintile are the most active lottery players, African Americans spend five times as much per capita on lottery tickets as whites, lottery players lose 47 cents on the dollar every time they play, and, statistically, you have a better chance of being killed by a toppled vending machine—or being canonized as a saint—than you do of winning a lottery jackpot. 

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