State lotteries can be bad for your health. At least, they can be - if you win. No, seriously. According to the experts, people who experience "sudden financial windfalls" can ultimately expect to feel anxiety, depression, anger, distrust, lack of identity and a sense of loss.
Whoa. We all like to think that a fat pile of money will solve our problems. In reality, that's probably where our real problems will begin. Thankfully, for most of us - with the odds of winning substantial money about 1 in 135 million - we'll never know how lucky we are to have lost.
That's what we discovered after spending the last year on Losers: Lester & Charlie's Favorite Collection of Losing Lottery Tickets. The horror stories from the winners - involving mob hits, cyanide poisoning, bankruptcy, divorce - made it seem like a public service to steal the tickets from everyone buying one. (Hey, you never know.) And the saddest part is that these miserable winners likely have no one to complain to; they've already lost all their friends.
Yet lotteries can be good. We also stumbled upon the story of a 98-year-old woman on a fixed income who was taking care of her special needs son. She won $1 million and was able to make sure her son was provided for after her death. And, if you can believe state lottery commission reports, public schools and state infrastructures are funded and built in part with state lottery profits (they keep 61% of their profits; 59% goes to the winner). Whatever you think of Princeton, Yale, Harvard and Columbia, they undeniably helped put America's higher education reputation on the map -- and they were funded in part by lotteries.
So - just as we were sitting on the fence about whether the good outweighed the bad when it came to lotteries - we found out about Republican Congressman Paul Stam of North Carolina. Stam is the guy who recently proposed a bill to make it illegal to sell a lottery ticket to anyone on public assistance. In his own words: "[...] by selling them a ticket, we're taking away their money that is there to provide them with the barest of necessities."
That got us thinking. Sure, buying a lottery ticket isn't the smartest investment. But what could be more of a "bare necessity" than hope? Life can be pretty grim for those on the bottom. Buying a lottery ticket can be an act of courage, an expression of hope, a refusal to accept that there's little social mobility left in America. Yes, it's reaching for the stars. But what's so bad about that? And - unless you happen to live in Florida or Ohio - you've got a better chance at winning a lottery ticket than getting a chance to vote.
So keep playing, America. Just be careful what you wish for.