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.

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Kathryn has been a staff writer for MDJ since January 2009. During the day she works in an office. In her off hours, she volunteers as a financial coach helping ordinary Canadians with the basics of money management. Kathryn, along with her husband and two children live in Ontario.
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tim moffitt
11 years ago

more like selling false hopes , do i play the lotteries ? yes , do i think they are rigged ? yes , the proof is out there if you really look , the 649 and lotto max top prizes are “won” in eastern canada the majority of the time , these machines they use to draw the numbers can be set up for certain numbers or rather the weight of the balls can be (adjusted) , has been proven in the states.
as for the scratch tickets , we are being sold tickets in hopes of winning the big prize even though all thats left to win if you are lucky is a free ticket or a couple of bucks , the lottery commission says they dont do that but they are doing exactly that . gaming in this country is a total scam . if we all had an ounce of brains ,, everyone would quit buying the tickets until the laws were changed to enforce honest gaming , until then… we just keep buying tickets or gambling in general , whatever your gambling fix is … you are being ripped off.

money at home
11 years ago

Great post. I do buy lottery tickets on occasion. However, I don’t ever plan on winning. :( I am a stay at home mom and I work part-time from home, which is a total gift. I try to earn the best living for my family that I can and I think spending a little bit of money on the potential to win a lot is still worth it. I always say, you’ll never win if you never try.

Future Money-Bags
11 years ago

I believe the odds of going from zero -> 50million from working in 1 persons life, would probably be the same as winning 50million in a lottery.
About 1:18,000,000
But unlike winning the lottery, if one actually tries their entire life and does everything possible and learns everything they can; I believe they have a much larger chance at becoming ‘rich’.
Maybe not 50million, but 5million net worth is very possible if you start in your 20’s.

I have never bought a lottery ticket of any sort, and don’t plan to. Similar to the ‘Latte Factor’ and Kathryn’s conservative investment of only 5%, you could earn an additional $25-$30,000 in 20 years. Thats just a couple dollars a day.
But if everyone stopped wasting their money and saved and invested it, than eveeryone would be rich. What fun would that be?

(All wording has been done by extremely rough estimates, by myself)

11 years ago

good post. you shouldn’t put your hope in the lottery.

Lottery Winners
11 years ago

I do believe paying out the money overtime is better for you can’t blow all the money at once. It would serve as a reminder that the money CAN last your entire lifetime.

11 years ago

There are many reasons why people play the lottery. One reason which I didn’t see mentioned usually involves the office pool.

What if I’m one of those who doesn’t participate and the group at the office wins? What if they win so much money that they leave the company and I end up having to pick up their slack? Not only am I not rich but I have to work even harder?

I wouldn’t be surprised if workers at the Aberta Treasury Branch, who were NOT part of the payroll group of 12 winners of a major lottery, thought something similar.

I don’t have a problem if someone wants to spend a few dollars “entertaining” themself with a lottery ticket purchase. If they can’t really afford it, or if turns into a gambling addiction, then that is a completely different story.

I work in an industry that provides solutions to casinos. One colleague of mine expressed a personal conflict with a situation. This casino (in the US) wanted us to create a software application on an ATM. The idea would be that the application would be able to find every single credit card or account that could be accessed to ensure that the patron could get every cent of his money in order to gamble.

My understanding is that casinos are for profit entities (some publicly traded) while Canadian lotteries often return a high proportion of their winnings back into government coffers to then help everyone.

One of the saddest things was the stat that Ed Rempel quoted – 30% of people counting on lottery winnings as part of their retirement plan. I would absolutely love to hear a story about a woman who invested the money her husband gave her to buy lottery tickets. She could, every once in awhile, tell him that they ‘won’ $10 here, or a free ticket there. Then, to his surprise, she let’s him know that they are millionaires – because she smartly invested it over time!

Now THAT would make a headline story!

11 years ago

Pat, Okay, I agree I was being a little dramatic and of course we could debate the value of social programs and our current canadian tax structure. But I really do think that lotteries foster selfishness. But I guess we can just take the fatalistic approach that people are always going to gamble so why not have a government rake. I would just like to see it treated the same way as tobacco and make advertising of it illegal. I would suspect that most of the people here could agree that those commercials do sell false hope. At least they should end with the disclaimer “Your odds of winning the jackpot are 1: 13,983,816”

11 years ago

Here is an updated article on the Fontaines (the winners of the $50 million dollar jackpot)

cash back credit cards
11 years ago

Very interesting story, and this really true. I would like to see the complete article of this couple winning this money. It’s really true money can not buy happiness.

11 years ago

Bryce, while I agree about the TV, I can’t agree with “some of your neighbors money can be yours without you having to provide any service of product to them.” At least not as it pertains to the lottery. Nobody put a gun to a neighbor’s head to buy a lottery ticket and put their money into the pot. They know what happens to their money if they don’t win. It goes to someone else’s winnings. I don’t see what is immoral about that.

Now, if you want to make the quoted statement reflect what are euphemistically called social programs, then you and I will agree on it until the end of time. People don’t have a choice about paying the taxes that go into the social programs. They do have a choice about buying a lottery ticket.