Lurid Lure of Lottery Lunacy

By: Mark Robertson | Sat, Mar 25, 2006
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The government of the United States does a lot of things right. We, The People, are always the reason. Miracles materialize simply because a gifted leader has the courage to stand before millions and say things like, "We WILL stand on the moon before the end of this decade." Other such statements which come to mind might be "Mr. Gorbachev - TEAR DOWN this wall!" "I have a dream."

Some ideas, like Social Security, have a magical promise. Good idea, lousy execution. There are sparse few programs which are LOUSY ideas. Uncle Sam actually does very few things wrong. Embracing the lunacy of lotteries is near the top of a fairly short list. A local billboard proclaimed, "Hundreds of Millionaires Created!" The images were silent about real damage inflicted on real people who can scarcely afford to parlay a lottery ticket. The reality weighs heavy.

Brunching and Browsing Beyond the Basics

My wife and I had ventured into one of our favorite restaurants for a relaxing brunch. This eatery is located in a local mall. As I took my last sip of java, Wendy announced that she had some quick shopping to do - and that she'd be able to "save me" several dollars over the next few minutes.

This is one of the mysteries of life that shall remain a mystery. I needed an escape pod, because I certainly didn't want to be an accomplice in this unfolding "saving" conspiracy.

Sweat forming on my brow, I desperately sought refuge. Bed, Bath & Beyond? Zales Jewelry? Fat chance. Ah. I sighted a Barnes & Noble. I needed a copy of Mary Farrell's latest book, Beyond the Basics, for a feature that we were planning for Better Investing. My ticket to salvation. I was launched. "Gee, honey, I'd really like to watch you try on fourteen pairs of shoes, but I really need a certain book for work." (It was more than a half truth - the second half, anyway.)

I was in luck. Mary Farrell's book was on display in the entrance. It takes far less time to swipe a credit card than it does to try on eighteen pairs of shoes. I needed to absorb some time. Spending it with Mary's words of wisdom is a very worthy way to invest a few minutes.

I found a bench and settled in. Across the hallway, I noticed a wooden Indian guarding the entrance to a cigar shop. The neon sign in the window proclaimed that this establishment also sold lottery tickets.

I glanced up from my pages to watch an elderly couple meander around our Indian guide, gingerly approaching the counter to buy a stack of Lotto tickets. They sauntered out and were seated at a nearby table. "Today may be the day!" "No winners for the last two weeks. We're due. Hard to believe that we've been striking out so much lately, huh?"

I tried to focus on Farrell's fantastic feature, but it wasn't easy. These two were scratching in a frenzy, dumping their barren losers in the waste receptacle next to their table.

Eavesdropping isn't polite, but their groans made it a real challenge. Suddenly, "YEE-HAH!" filled the corridors. She'd scratched and exposed a $50 Instant Winner. She scrambled to her feet and dashed back to the counter.

She returned with $50 worth of more potential Instant Winners! The frenzy continued and the scratching continued, but alas, no more screeching followed.

The return to an "investor" in the average lottery ticket is negative 99.4 percent, or something like that. In this case, it was clear that the return was minus 100 percent. This couple would have been far better off buying stock in that shoe company. A sure thing? My spouse had just spent the last few minutes "saving us money" and providing an impact that was probably enough to make a visible difference on the company's income statement.

A Few Moments to Dream

My thinking is wishful. My hope is that our nation of gifted educators will focus on delivering a certain wisdom to our young people. It's time for our national and state legislators to tear down lottery roadside signs and cease the television commercials. Allocate those resources to teaching our time-honored practice of investing small amounts - regularly. Prepare our citizens to access a lifetime of successful investing well before the day they become eligible to purchase lottery tickets.

Lotteries are a national disgrace. In this case, the intellectual advantage belongs to my wooden Indian friend.



Mark Robertson

Author: Mark Robertson

Mark Robertson
Manifest Investing

Manifest Investing General Manager Mark Robertson wrote an investment advisory newsletter from 1993-98 before serving as Senior Contributing Editor for Better Investing magazine from 1998-2004.

Copyright © 2006 Mark Robertson

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