And those ridiculous bets you make…gambling is the finest thing a person can do if he’s good at it, but you haven’t won anything in months.
– Krusty the Klown’s accountant
Like all good Kiwis, I was watching American Idol on Saturday night when the Lotto draw came on. I haven’t seen a draw in years and they have this new ‘Winning Wheel’ where a lucky ticket holder from the previous draw gets to come in and spin a wheel to when a bunch of money. Before the big spin, there was a little video on the couple. From the Far North, they were low-income – he was a forest worker. They weren’t greedy for money but they recognised that whatever they won (I think the minimum was $100,000) would be life changing. They had been playing since Lotto began (1987 – which, at $10 a week is over $7,000) and the biggest win they had had before was $30. But that was all made up and more when they won $200,000, eh?
Except, of course, most people will never get to spin the Winning Wheel or win a big prize. Nearly everyone loses money in the long-run. Even the idea that Lotto effectively pools the players’ money and redistributes it in concentrated bundles to a few of them is false. Nearly half the money doesn’t go back to the players.
I find it to be no coincidence that the government established the Lotto Commission to run Lotto and Instant Kiwi during the Neoliberal Revolution, in 1986 and casinos were legalised duirng the same period in 1990. Just as the neoliberals were taking away the hope of working people to work their way to a decent level of wealth, they held out the false hope of gambling instead. So millions of people, seeing their incomes drop and their jobs disappear, see Lotto as a little hope of a circuit breaker. There’s no stats I can find on the income distribution of Lotto players but I know very few well-off people who play, it’s mostly people on low incomes. It makes sense – you can’t get ahead by normal means but invest a little money (which becomes a lot of money, week after week) and there is a slim chance that all your money woes will be things of the past. People have been conned out of a real route to wealth and offered an illusion in its place.
But, there’s a con within the con, because Lotto skims off 46% of ticket sales for operating costs, taxes, and Lottery Grants. $150 million of the $750 million in ticket sales last year went on grants decided by a Commission headed by former National Party President Judy Kirk with the three others all wealthy businessmen. There’s a hell of a lot of, for want of a better word, bourgeois stuff that gets funded from the money working people spend to get the possibility of a life-changing win.
If there’s some good news, it’s that the con doesn’t work forever. People get sick of paying all that money and rarely winning. That’s why Lotto keeps on introducing new games to revive excitement, and why the Winning Wheel has the new little video on the winners and you get to see them win right in front of your eyes – it makes the prospect of winning a lot more tangible. Still, ticket sales are falling – down over 16% in the last financial year.
– Bright Red
* It turns out the Winning Wheel has been around since 2004 – I really haven’t seen a draw in ages 🙂