Selling Hope: The Ethics of Lottery Tickets
In early November Kirby and Marie Fontaine, each without the other’s knowledge, bought a Lotto Max ticket. Both in their 30s, two kids at home, living in a mobile home they were down to their last few dollars. She worked in a care home. He had to give up his position in security because of a stroke months before. Money was tight and there wasn’t enough for him to get the rehabilitation he so desperately needed.
Marie beat the odds that day, 1 in 28 million, and won $50 million dollars. In Canada that’s $50 million dollars tax free!
I’m really happy for this couple. By the sounds of it they are friendly, well respected members of their community. People who know them only have kind things to say about them. They’ve had a difficult time of it and this will change their lives. The ethics of spending their last $10 has spread throughout the media.
Who are we to judge how they spend their money? If I had been in the same situation, discouraged and out of money, who’s to say I wouldn’t buy hope with a $5 bill.
Are lotteries marketed to people who don’t have an emergency fund, are low on finances and are bad at math? Is it ethical to sell hope when the odds are 1 in 28 million?
Fifty million dollars is a lot of money and with it comes a lot of responsibility. There is a misguided belief that money will solve all problems. Yes, it can help. It can buy freedom, experiences, medical treatment, houses, cars and lots left over for giving away. It may solve some of their problems but it will also bring with it new issues. Money changes relationships. It’s one thing to have the freedom to give to people and organizations you want to support. It’s another thing altogether to have thousands of people asking for money and having to say no. It may have you wondering who your friends really are.
In truth I wouldn’t want to win 50 million dollars. I’ve heard too many horror stories about how large lottery wins have ruined peoples lives. Just google “lottery regrets” if you haven’t heard some of the worst of it.
In 2004, Suzanne Conrad of Findlay Ohio won one million dollars in a Pillsbury Bake Off. Being a pie person, I knew I had to try this recipe. It’s been a hit in this family ever since only instead of calling it “Oats N’ Honey Granola Pie” (recipe) which sounds, slightly unappetizing, we call it “Million Dollar Pie”. Let me tell you, that is some fine pie! What I like about this particular contest is that in winning, the finalist doesn’t get a million dollars all at once but $50,000 a year over 20 years. Fifty thousand dollars over twenty years can buy a lot of financial margin but it probably won’t change your life.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying I’d rather have $50,000 over 20 years than a million dollars all at once. That wouldn’t make financial sense. Even at ING’s measly 1.05%, a million dollars would still earn over $1000 in interest a month. I just wonder if lotteries paid out over time, preferably with interest, they’d have the potential to enrich lives more than a one time big windfall ever could. It would certainly avoid the bankruptcies within years of winning a lottery. It would also avoid the pitfalls that come along with giving people who are bad a math a huge windfall all at once.
Kathryn works in public relations and training for a non profit. In her off hours, she volunteers as a financial coach helping ordinary Canadians with the basics of money management. Her passions include personal finance and adult education. Kathryn, along with her husband and two children live in Ontario.