Costa Rica is in the ‘upper tier’ in Lottery Sales! That’s Good… Right?

In this competitive world, being in the ‘upper tier’ is usually either a much desired achievement or a badge of shame (#1 in murder rate, for example). So when I ran across an article in Inside Costa Rica about my adopted country, I had to ask myself whether this was a badge of honor or a badge of shame.

Going against my general disposition, I decided to look for the positive first. Well, first of all, there were the winners. SOMEBODY won some money on this thing, so good for them. Then there are all the jobs the lottery creates. Stroll around downtown San Jose and you’ll see a bunch of little TV trays and people sitting behind them hawking some set of ‘lucky’ numbers. And right below my apartment is a little shop that does distribution of tickets and collection of monies from these mini-entrepreneurs. Jobs, Jobs, Jobs!

Before we get to the negative, let’s look at the ‘hard to say’ aspect(s). Way back when my home state of California adopted its own lottery, I recall sitting in the lunch room and listening to the secretaries all the talk about what what they were going to do WHEN they won the lottery. Not if… WHEN.

So I suppose you can credit the lottery for a lot of nice daydreams. I suppose daydreams about being rich are no more harmful than daydreaming about your favorite team winning the Superbowl. Of course, daydreams about the Oakland Raiders going all the way are free (unless you insist on buying the merchandise or [heaven forbid!] season tickets). The lottery dream will cost you at least a dollar or so, since, as they remind us, you can’t WIN if you don’t PLAY!

Okay… cue the Grinch… Now let’s examine the… D A R K S I D E…

The real winners in lotteries worldwide are those who run them. The government gets a cut, and in most cases, so does some private company that was granted the right to manage the thing. The ‘house’ gets a very healthy cut, you had better believe. As far as a good gambling wager goes, lottery is pretty low on the totem pole. You would be better off taking that dollar (or 100 Colones or whatever) and putting it on red or black at a roulette table and letting it ride till it got up to the desired payoff. Your odds of winning a million Colones that way are better than playing the lottery.

The second ‘dark’ side is the flip side of the ‘daydream’ bit mentioned earlier. Rather than doing something real to change their lives, the daydreamers daydream. Marx called religion the opium of the people. He might have substituted lotteries in that statement. It’s part of the bread and circuses approach to keeping the great unwashed masses pacified. Why bother changing the system if you are going to be one of the ‘elite’ any day now?

In my eyes, the worst aspect of it all is that it is yet another regressive tax, which I find loathsome in principle. Robin Hood in reverse, so to speak. Do you think Don Oscar Arias plays the lottery? And if he did, what percent of his income or net worth might he spend per year? The article says that Ticos spend $52 per year for every man, woman and child in the country on lottery tickets. That’s nearly a week’s wages for minimum wage earners. I’m not sure how much Don Oscar or Dona Laura earn per week, but I can’t imagine them spending that much on lottery tickets. They would need an awful lot of storage space just to hold each weeks tickets and getting rid of them would probably require an entire dump truck. Perhaps I exaggerate… maybe a minivan would hold them.

In any case, at best you can call the lottery a stupidity and ignorance tax. As far as the CR ‘establishment’ goes, that’s not a problem. They don’t need to daydream to experience the good life.

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  1. Daydreams perhaps, pipe dreams for certain.