State lotteries -- child of avarice, brother of iniquity and father of mischief

Actually, in a letter to Bushrod Washington, George Washington said

Do you agree with the Father of our Country? In particular, do you agree that state lotteries are the wrong way for the government to raise money?

I do agree. Lotteries take advantage of peoples’ ignorance of the laws of probability. They amount to a regressive tax. They enrich the businesses which sell the machinery and which conduct the lotteries. They focus the public on luck, rather than working toward sensible goals.


You have a point, to some extent… but it ignores a fact of human nature.

People are going to gamble. They are just going to gamble, that’s all. Gambling has been going on since caveman days, and it is going to go on as long as there are humans to bet on stuff.

Therefore, gambling exists, and will exist, despite all efforts to the contrary. No matter how rotten the odds, and no matter how well publicized they are, there will be those who will not resist the siren song of “something for nothing.”

Historically, there have been enough folks like this that some people can make a living by running gambling games.

Now, government gambling – lotteries in particular – suck. They’re a perfect example of why private enterprises are generally better at running things than the government. The odds suck at nearly all lotteries run by states. My personal odds of winning anything aren’t very good, and my personal odds of winning anything more than five bucks are astronomical.

So I don’t play the lottery. Why bother?

But some people do. Some people can’t resist.

And rather than have these people give their money to the Mafia, or to some jerk in the office running football squares to pay for his bad habits, I would just as soon see the money go to the public schools, or something along that line.

So I am in favor of government lotteries, yeah.

In some ways it bothers me, if only because most states also deem themselves the only ones fit to run a lottery. The only fundraising monopoly the government should have at its disposal—and even this I don’t like—is taxation.

The lottery has never irritated me at all. I have never quite grasped the objections to its existence.

This argument is always made against the lottery, and it is a correct neutral fact that Americans are largely innumerate. But take a survey; I don’t think that lottery players are so innumerate that they expect to win when they play.
If you don’t expect to win, yet choose to play, you aren’t being taken advantage of.

“They amount to” =! “they are.” There is a world of difference between intent and effect.

This is listed as one of the reasons lotteries are a bad thing? :confused: Aren’t you the conservative here?
Are you opposed to the military because Boeing makes money off it?
Or is the fact that the private sector makes money off a public policy irrelevant to whether the public policy is good or bad? Sheesh.

Cite, please?

Really, december, you should leave the paternalistic liberalism to the professionals.

The only valid argument against the lottery (and it is an exceedingly good one), is a conservative one - restraint of free trade.
In its own pecuniary interest, the governments of the several states with lotteries have awarded themselves a monopoly on numbers games. The injured parties are the consumers of numbers games, who receive considerably less back on the dollar than did numbers players in the days when the mob ran an honest numbers game.


If this is true, then you must also be in favor of banning the insurance industry and the stock market. Insurance is based on convincing consumers their luck is worse than it actually is, and use this fear to sell them questionable coverage at exhorbitant premiums. The stock market fosters the belief that work is for little people, and the really wealthy just sit on their butts and let their money work for them. Lotteries are no worse.

Everyone knows: Beer is the answer!

It’s for the children, doncha know!


The poor man’s tax? The game that takes the most money from the people least equipped to understand the odds and afford them? Now why would you say such horrible things about a game like that?

Love those lottery commercials…

“Now our game is getting even more exiciting!!! There are now 5 more exciting NEW numbers to pick from!!! Come on and play!!! The game is getting better!!!”

Oh I have nothing but love for an institution that tries to pass that off with a straight face.

Nonsense. People (and businesses) know that insurance will cost them money on average, but they want protection against a big loss. The stock market contributes to the overall economy by facilitating investment. But, you knew that.

I do not know of which game you speak.

I will not stand here and see december accused of liberalism! An immediate retraction and a humble apology, sir, is your only honorable course. Short of seppuku

How can you not like a voluntary tax?

I detest gambling, but I’ll bet heavily on the defenders of it.

There’s a reason people go to Vegas. Gambling is by nature a private enterprise and I regret that state government ever got into it. You’d be hard pressed to get the reservations think otherwise, though.

Cite, please.

A cite, supporting the claim that George Washington said this.

Because our poor Founding Fathers have been denied their simple, eternal rest in their graves far too often. These sorry, beloved cadavers have been trotted out 100 times to support ideas of virtues both golden and dubious; often forced to carry the burden of words other men besides themselves spoke.

Give these saintly old zombies a break, december–provide a cite & a link.

Well, it’s too bad that the only politically popular way for governments to raise revenue comes in for this kind of criticism. Before state lotteries were in effect I didn’t really think there would be such criticism. It wasn’t the first or last time I was excruciatingly wrong about public reaction to a government policy.

Anyway, I am totally and unequivocally in favor of state lotteries and of the state monopoly on gambling.* I don’t really trust myself to make a good case for it though so I don’t mind getting chewed out by the SDMB anti-lottery forces.

The state has monopolies on lots of stuff. Taxation, currency creation, national defense, law enforcement, social welfare, free education, among others. (Some would argue that private security firms are sort of like police; some would argue that private schools that offer tuition assistance amount to free education. If you want me to say a “near monopoly”, fine, but I also see no problem with gambling on Indian reservations so I guess I support only a near monopoly for government.) There are states in which liquor sales are a monopoly - a fair solution to the obvious problems in letting profit-driven private liquor stores enforce laws against selling to minors upon themselves (I’m not sure exactly how I feel about giving the state a monopoly on liquor but the pro- argument is worth considering).

Maybe I should phrase my defense of lotteries as a challenge:
[ul][li]Do you support free primary and secondary education?[/li]
[li]Do you think it should be at public expense?[/li]
[li]If so, can you find a politically-acceptable funding source, or combination of sources, which is able to consistently fund public education both in times of prosperity and recession?[/li]
[li]If not, can you find a private organization willing to shoulder the burden?[/ul][/li]Basically, I think some of the arguments against gambling have merit. For one thing, the argument that “people would gamble anyway, so the public should at least get some of the money” argument holds water until the state starts making (invariable horribly annoying) radio commercials advertising the lottery. Excuse me, if people would gamble anyway why do have to have that obnoxious lady begging us to do so at the expense of the programs you are supposed to be supporting?

The argument that it taxes the poor more than the rich only holds water if you put a lot of stock in elitist beliefs that the poor have inherently worse math skills. I don’t know. I know a lot of rich people with lousy math skills. To me it is not a tax on the poor, it is a tax on the naive. If more poor people are naive, so be it; the non-naive poor people are still reaping the benefits of better public services, just as the non-smoking poor people reap the benefits of “regressive” cigarette taxes in cleaner and better public services.

The argument that they glorify luck and ignore real virtues is correct. The argument that they rely on greed is correct; the idea that they encourage greed is rather more suspect. Whatever the arguments about the lottery are, the crisis threatening public education is vastly more important. See The Economist, January 4th, 2003, p. 22 on the crisis threatening my neck of the woods:

The consequences to the loss of good, recession-proof public education have been and will be much worse than a dose of avarice and mischief. I worry about how another generation of ignorant, semi-literate, unsocialized youth is going to handle the future if it is robbed of what was once considered its birthright. My generation is quite apathetic and dopey enough, thank you.

Maybe if we have enough money for basic reading and math education the next generation will be too savvy to even want to play the lottery. That will be one loss of revenue to which I will give a hearty “Huzzah!”

  • Actually, one variant I might support would be allowing private companies to do this run lotteries, taxed to the point where the state made as much money off of it as they do off current public lotteries. This might reduce administrative costs, since private companies would have an incentive to reduce their costs like any business does, meaning more money for the winners and public services the lottery supports. The goodwill this plan would generate among anti-monopoly forces would be vastly outweighed, I think, by the antipathy it would generate among anti-tax people. So I’m not holding my breath.

If you go to this page, you can get all the cites you want."the+child+of+avarice%2C+the+brother+of+iniquity%2C+and+the+father+of+mischief."&btnG=Google+Search

Your search only deepens the confusion on this supposed quote december. Some of the cites claim it was said about horse racing, some said gaming, others said gambling; you say it was the lottery. Which is it? Or do you think it applies equally to all forms of gambling?