March 11, 2007

"The people who denigrate lottery players are like 10-year-olds who are disgusted by the idea of sex..."

... "they are numb to its pleasures, so they say it’s not rational."

29 comments:

Nick said...

Kind of like people who denigrate smokers isn't it?

reality check said...

Kind of like people that denigrate torture isn't it?

reality check said...

Note that it's an economist that insists its rational behavior, mainly because that's the only tool in their belt.

Everything everyone does is rational, Homo Rationalis.

Ann Althouse said...

Should you be off somewhere checking reality, Reality Check?

johnstodder said...

I was put off the lottery for good when the California Lottery ran an ad in which Steve Wozniak said his number was 1 2 3 4 5 6 7, and the copy said "it has as good a chance of winning as any other number."

I figured, "Yeah, that's right. And I could live 10 million years and that number would never come up." End of fantasy.

It's an interesting story, makes a good deal of sense, but still doesn't take away my pangs of sadness seeing people who can ill afford it send money to the state and the wealthy vendors who run it. If that makes me a spoilsport, so be it.

P. Froward said...

"It’s not just winning the money but anticipating winning the money that is exciting, and the two experiences are similar neurobiologically," said Christine Reilly, executive director of the Institute for Research on Pathological Gambling and Related Disorders, in Medford, Mass.

Poor little Reality Check forgot to check reality again. And again, and again...


In my smug way I'll keep on pitying people who buy lottery tickets, because I derive as much pleasure from that as they do from the tickets, and it doesn't cost me a dime. Nevertheless, that's a hell of an interesting article. Never thought about it that way at all: People spend money on temporary pleasures. I may get more fun out of a decent bottle of wine, but the guy with the lottery ticket may have a healthier liver, and he doesn't have to call a cab. There's an unamiable element of moral panic in condemning either one.

It's worth bearing in mind though that to regard all lottery "customers" as helpless addicts is like assuming that everybody who drinks is an alcoholic. Notwithstanding the solemn declarations of the Women's Christian Temperance Union, 'tain't so. The leftoid assumption that people not identical to them cannot possibly be rational is considerably less rational than the economist's belief that most people do tend to be rational: If the former were true, we'd have died out a long, long time ago. It's also considerably more pathetic than the guy buying a lottery ticket: The guy with the ticket gets off on fantasizing about a world where he's rich and happy — nothing wrong with that — while the liberal gets his jollies fantasizing about a world where everybody but him is condemned to be poor, miserable, and stupid — which is repulsive, contemptible, and small.

In closing, I'd like to observe that the guy with the ticket, unlike R.C., is bright enough to recognize that the fantasy is merely a fantasy.

Smilin' Jack said...

One can be rational and still be stupid.

Steven said...

The reason economics assumes rational actors for theoretical work is because it's a simplifying assumption. It's no sillier than the common assumption in physics of things like frictionless spherical bodies of uniform densities.

LoafingOaf said...

I only play Mega-Millions when the jackpot is huge. Don't insult me with a mere $50 million jackpot! This article is right, though, so long as you're not spending more than a little pocket change on 'em. There's pleasure from it that's worth a few bucks. Plus, however irrational playing Mega-Millions is, no one can refute the fact that if you don't play you can't win.

I prefer the instant tickets though. Ever since the Ohio Lottery installed vending machines that sell those in my grocery store I've gotten in the habit of spending leftover change on those.

I don't scatch 'em off right away. I collect 'em in a drawer, milk the daydreams, and then some night when I'm drunk I'll scatch 'em off and see if the Gods love me yet.

The instant lottery games are better because if you get like 10 instant tickets there's actually a decent chance you'll at least break even. That's how they hooked me. When I started playing I got ahead by 20 bucks and, instead of quitting while I was ahead, just had to find out how long I could keep that going. Not for long, but it makes it more fun when you feel you have a fighting chance on the next batch of tickets.

reality check said...

Physicists give up frictionless bodies when they are a junior.

Dave F said...

I denigrate lottery players, being that they tend toward the marginal, mathematically illiterate, or otherwise generally undesirable.

But then I've never been one to hew to the dictates of political correctness.

Mortimer Brezny said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
reality check said...

disposable income....

Mortimer Brezny said...

If you only spend a small amount of discretionary income when the pot is extraordinary and your numbers are selected randomly by a computer, there is nothing irrational about it at all. Your chance of winning is greater than zero and the cost, outweighed by the psychic benefits, is less than zero.

Mortimer Brezny said...

I changed disposable income to discretionary income to make my post clearer.

It should have been clear in any event that by "a small amount of disposable income" I was referring to an amount of disposable income so small that it does not cut into your standard of living.

The usual attack on the lotto is that it tricks the poor into wasting their money. But in many states the truly poor are exempt from taxation. It also should have been clear that I was not referring to such persons by use of the term "disposable income" because disposable income is what is left over after taxes.

I made the change because my point is that the practice is rational for anyone regardless of class or state tax regime.

Dave F said...

There certainly is merit to the argument that the only way you can win the lottery is by playing it. No matter how small the chances of winning it, your chances of winning are infinitely greater if you play than if you don't.

Being that the lottery attracts the mathematically illiterate and marginal, though, I doubt most lottery players would understand the above point.

Mortimer Brezny said...

Being that the lottery attracts the mathematically illiterate and marginal, though, I doubt most lottery players would understand the above point.

Everyone knows that winning the lottery is unlikely. Everyone knows that you shouldn't spend too much on the lottery because it would be a waste. Everyone knows that you can't win unless you buy a ticket. What else do you need to know?

MadisonMan said...

I have to admit that when the jackpot is greater than $160M, I will plunk down $1 on Wisconsin's powerball. Because the odds of winning are something like 145M to 1, I've won as soon as I've played.

Garble said...

For mega millions you Pick 5 different numbers between 1 and 56, plus 1 number between 1 and 46
there are

56*55*54*53*52*46 = 21,085,384,320

So the chance of winning with 100,000 tickets, (all different numbers) is less than 0.0005%

(Not counting smaller prizes)



if you want to dream go ahead. But it's a suckers bet.

peter hoh said...

Apples and oranges. The NYT graphic compares the odds of winning the next Mega Millions jackpot with the odds of someone in the U.S. being hit by lightning during a year. Is that a fair comparison? Wouldn't it be more fair to compare the odds of winning the lottery next Wednesday with the odds of being hit by lightning next Wednesday?

I want that stat. Any help from any of you who are smarter than I?

Ann Althouse said...

peter hoh said..."Apples and oranges. The NYT graphic compares the odds of winning the next Mega Millions jackpot with the odds of someone in the U.S. being hit by lightning during a year. Is that a fair comparison? Wouldn't it be more fair to compare the odds of winning the lottery next Wednesday with the odds of being hit by lightning next Wednesday?"

Yes. And even if you restrict it like that, your odds of getting hit by lightning are affected by what you do, similar to the matter of buying or not buying a lottery ticket. Are you spending much time outside (or if inside, staying off the phone and out of the bath during a storm)? Are you in a part of the country where there are thunderstorms? Do you engage in behavior -- such as golfing -- where you can get caught in a storm and be far from shelter? If no, it's almost like not buying a lottery ticket.

MadisonMan said...

garble, you have failed your statistics test. Here's a hint: Does it matter in which order you pick your numbers?

Bruce Hayden said...

I had never thought of it this way, but it does make sense. Indeed, the whole gambling thing doesn't make sense to me, but that is because losing money bothers me more than the high I might get from winning.

I attribute most of my problem to having a mathematics undergraduate degree, an MBA, and in the case of slot machines, having worked with engineers who develop them to file patents.

So, I can safely say that I have never bought a lottery ticket, and in the case of slots, managed the last time I played to lose only $.25 playing for an hour (it wasn't my idea to play - I was doing so under duress).

Bruce Hayden said...

The assumption of rational behavior works fairly well in the aggregate. But notably a lot of advertising is aimed squarely at changing rational behavior into irrational behavior, or rather, adding intangible benefits.

Indeed, the argument in the article seems to be that it is the value of this intangible benefit that makes the lottery rational. Without that, it appears irrational (and since I don't get the benefit, it still appears that way to me). But many, if not most, apparently do gain that intangible benefit from playing.

peter hoh said...

New York used to have ads for their lottery with the cathcphrase, "All you need is a dollar and a dream."

Seen through the lens of this article, a dollar is a fairly cheap way to breathe life into one's dream of big winnings and life on "easy street."

Hazy Dave said...

MadisonMan said...
"garble, you have failed your statistics test."

You're a tough grader, Madison Man. Does he get partial credit for showing his work? At least he's not trying to convince us he knows anything about physicists.

Meeting someone who works for the state lottery and hearing them assert some statistics about the educational attainments of lottery players hasn't affected my preferred epithet, "a tax on people who are bad at math."

Condescension, however, is worth avoiding, if for no other reason than avoiding the difficulty inherent in rationally defending one's own obsessive habits.

Jeremy said...

no one can refute the fact that if you don't play you can't win

Whatever, I saw It Could Happen to You. I figure the chances of somebody handing me a winning lottery ticket are about as good as the chances of winning outright. They can't be appreciably different.

Fen said...

Its a tax on people who don't get Math.

Its extremely annoying in the AM, when I'm trying to jump in the store to get a quick coffee - there are always a few in line playing their game and making me late to work.

Its fun to play every now and then. To plan out what you would do if you actually won the 250 million [hint: lawyer and financial advisor first].

Its also sad to see welfare mom's throwing my tax dollars iinto the pool, while their kids are standing next to them barefoot.

DS Bakker said...

Every bet is a contract between a fool and a thief. -proverb