Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Lotteries Appeal to the Poorest in Poor Countries Too

A couple in my extended family decided to leave Canada’s cold a little over a decade ago and headed off to the island of Roatan, the largest Bay Island of the Honduras. I’ll call them Bob and Jill. The two of them regularly see a mix of wealthy foreigners and very poor locals. Recently, lotteries hit the island in a big way. The results are tragically predictable.

Tickets for the twice-daily draws sell for somewhere close to 25 Canadian cents each. Bob and Jill do a lot of volunteer work with the locals providing some jobs and helping children with education both by financing it and tutoring them. The excitement among the poorest locals over the lottery looks very similar to our experience.

Bob and Jill try to explain that it is a waste of money, but the typical reaction from lottery players is “but I’m going to win so much money.” It is only the locals who are better off financially who seem able to see the new lotteries for what they are: a big waste of money.

It seems that even in a country that is very poor by our standards, the poorest of the poor find some spare money to waste on lottery tickets.


  1. Proving that...

    A) Poverty is in many respects a relative measure - we compare ourselves to people around us. And

    B) Psychology works roughly the same on people of all nationalities.

  2. @CCC: That makes sense. I see lotteries as a victory of imagination over reality. People imagine an outcome and ignore the reality that they won't win.

  3. A tax on bad math skills, or, more harshly, a greed tax.

  4. @Andy R: I hadn't heard lotteries called a "greed tax" before, but it fits. In the past I've jokingly said that there are two types of greed: the good kind and the bad kind. The good kind of greed is where you act greedy and get more as a result. Lotteries are clearly the bad kind of greed.

  5. I've heard it called the "idiot tax" but never the "greed tax". Interesting perspective.

  6. I remember in my 20s buying a lottery ticket for some huge Lotto 6/49 draw and then getting enjoyment out of imagining what I would do with all that money. I don't get that feeling anymore, perhaps because I'm better off financially now. I no longer buy tickets.

    My advice to lottery players would to buy the ticket as far advance of the draw as possible so you can maximize your fantasizing time. Also, don't play too often, or that feeling will fade.

    On a tangent, I heard a story about a Haitian lottery on the radio. One interesting thing about it is that the winning numbers the lottery used were those drawn by a New York lottery. People would be too suspicious of locally drawn numbers since corruption is rampant in Haiti.