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Bad times are good for the Lottery

Some people might consider this to be good news, but I don’t.

This year, the Texas Lottery Commission’s sales are headed for a record high, on pace to reach about $3.83 billion, up from $3.74 billion last year. The previous high was $3.77 billion, in 2006.

Lottery spending is also up in Harris County. Sales grew to $639 million in the state’s 2010 fiscal year and are on pace to clear $645 million this fiscal year, which ends Aug. 31.

The prize payout percentage also has increased this year – about 64 cents of every dollar spent has gone back to customers. But as is always the case with the lottery, those who play more are likely to lose more.

And which consumers are spending the most?

According to a Hearst Newspapers analysis of lottery sales statistics using data from the U.S. Census Bureau, residents in the state’s poorer counties appear to be doing a disproportionate amount of the spending.

While this is not an exact analysis – some consumers, of course, buy tickets outside of the counties where they live – lottery sales per resident are consistently higher in the poorest counties than in the wealthiest ones.

[…]

Charles Clotfelter, an economist and lottery researcher at Duke University, said it’s difficult to pinpoint what drives up lottery sales, but said, “There’s probably a desperate side to it.”

“Just ask yourself the question,” he said. “How is a person going to get his hands on $100,000? If you’re a rich person, you could think of ways. If you’re a poor or blue-collar person, there are two ways: Legal gambling and illegal gambling.

“Maybe lottery is the poor man’s Dow Jones,” he added.

I don’t know what I can add to that. I’d prefer to live in a society where playing the lottery was strictly a matter of enjoyment and not an investment strategy. I don’t see us getting there any time soon.

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