For weeks now, we have been reading and hearing about the rising value of the Mega Millions lottery.
Recently, there were finally winners. Three people won $1.6 billion each plus 110,643 who won lesser amounts totaling $273 million.
What you have not heard is how much people spent on tickets for the big lottery. Nobody is saying, but I believe the answer is about $8.8 billion. So $5.1 billion was won, and $3.7 billion was lost.
The Mega Millions game is a merger of state lotteries, and each state sets its own rules. The Ohio Lottery was set up to pay back 58 cents on every dollar spent by those who played the lottery. The other 42 cents is divided between operating expenses of the lottery and education.
You may recall that when the Ohio Lottery was proposed, a major argument in support of it was that it would solve the state’s problem of funding education. It hasn’t. What the lottery contributes is less than 3 percent of the funding of public education in Ohio.
However, allocating funds from the lottery to education, means the lottery pays back to those who play it less than many other forms of gambling.
If you go to a casino and play roulette, the winnings are 94 percent of what is bet. If you play blackjack, it is a different problem.
There is skill as well as chance involved. You have three disadvantages. You have to play first, and you may go over 21 and lose. Second, the dealer wins ties. Third the dealer probably knows more about the game than you do.
You can go to a racetrack and bet on horses. Again, there is skill involved. The winnings amount to more than is bet, but your skill might enable you to come out ahead. Luck will not for long.
You can bet on sports. Skill might enable you to come out ahead.
When I was a young sports editor in a small town in Indiana, I knew a man who made a good living betting on college football and basketball. Some of his bets were larger than my annual salary. He lost some, but usually won. However, that is not what happens to most people who bet on sports.
So the lottery is stacked against you, but you may get some satisfaction out of the fact that you are helping education. Besides, in all gambling, the odds are against the bettor. Bet as you will, but don’t expect to win.
Guido H. Stempel III is a distinguished professor emeritus of journalism at Ohio University. Professor Stempel has a Ph.D. in mass communication from the University of Wisconsin and a master's in journalism from Indiana University. He has been on the Ohio University faculty since 1965 and served as director and graduate chairman of the journalism school, director of the Bush Research Endowment, and director of the Scripps Survey Research Center. He is a columnist for The Athens Messenger and The Highland County Press.