Scott Rasmussen: Lottery lies fuel distrust of government

By Scott Rasmussen

It’s a little thing, but it bugs me a lot.

Whenever I see an ad touting how much money someone could win in the Mega-Millions lottery or some state lottery, I want to see an appropriate disclosure statement. Something along the lines of the fast-paced recital of risks we hear after seeing ads for prescription drugs. Or perhaps like the ads for investment advisors who are required to note that past performance is no guarantee of future success.

In the case of lotteries, the warning would include language like: The average buyer of a lottery ticket will lose $50 for every $100 they spend. Last year, New York Lottery players lost a total of $3 Billion — yes $3 Billion with a B. More than 9 out of 10 ticket buyers will lose all of their money. For those who are fortunate enough to win, a third or more of their winnings will be withheld for tax payments.

I realize that probably isn’t a compelling sales pitch. On the other hand, it probably wouldn’t discourage many people from playing. Most gamblers recognize they’re likely to lose and most are able to keep the risk at manageable levels.

Still, the lack of disclosure bugs me and it’s because of the double standard involved. If the lottery were a private company, regulators would demand the inclusion of a disclaimer.

We know this is true because commercials for private sector gambling never talk about how much you can win.

Casinos and racetracks highlight the alleged fun and glamour of the casino experience rather than the prospect of big winnings. Private sector gambling is presented as something to do rather than as a misleading promise about making money. While some of that may be a pragmatic desire to sell the experience, it’s undoubtedly true that any suggestion that casino guests might win would bring the regulatory authorities down on the commercial campaign.

With a struggling economy, the rise of new terror groups, and a battered health care system, the need for equal treatment of private and public sector gambling regulations may seem to be a minor concern. But it symbolizes a much bigger problem. The government, politicians and the politically well-connected write one set of rules for themselves and another for the rest of us.

This unequal treatment breeds mistrust, and that lack of trust undermines confidence in just about every public policy setting.

If people in Ferguson, Missouri, had believed that the government and people who run it were trustworthy, there would not have been such unrest following the shooting of Michael Brown.

If people throughout the nation had trust and confidence in the Center for Disease Control, fears of Ebola getting out of hand would be greatly reduced.

Talking about ways that the government can re-earn the trust and confidence of the American people should be a major issue in this year’s mid-term elections. However, it’s not even on the agenda. Perhaps that’s because those in power don’t recognize that there’s a problem.

Making the lotteries provide appropriate disclaimers won’t change the world, but it would be one small step toward restoring the integrity of our governing institutions. Many more are needed.


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