Researchers say 'jackpot fever' hides cruel truth about lotteries

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Until someone wins the jackpot, news viewers will be inundated with stories about the near record payout for the Mega Millions drawing. 

But critics say dreams of getting rich obscure a cruel reality-- there is a lot of research that suggests state lotteries prey on poor and minority groups.

Les Bernal, National Director for Stop Predatory Gambling says state lotteries pay out roughly 60% of what they take in, turning the other 40% into a tax that the disadvantaged can ill afford.

"The lottery is a game where the more you participate in it, it is a mathematical certainty you are going to lose all your money," Bernal said.

While many lottery players wait until a lottery jackpot approaches record numbers, then throw a couple of bucks into an office pool. Bernal says the average lottery player spends much more than that.

"The business model of state lotteries is based upon exploitation and greed of our fellow citizens," he said.

Data from the Wisconsin Lottery shows they took in more than $894 million last fiscal year. According to US Census data, there are just under four million adults in the state. On average, every Wisconsin adult spent $223 on the lottery last fiscal year. Bernal says many people lose thousands of dollars a year on the lottery, hoping a big win will end their financial problems -- while spending in a way that will make them worse.

"Ten percent of the people that play the lottery, contribute between 70-80% of lottery profits," Bernal said.

The Wisconsin Lottery says since 1988, they've funded more than $5 billion in property tax credits, but critics argue that by fueling gambling addiction and discouraging savings, more people stay in poverty. That continued poverty ends up costing taxpayers.

"We're subsidizing health care, we're subsidizing housing costs for people, we're paying for food stamps, with the mission of trying to get people out of poverty," Bernal said. "You the taxpayer-- you pay, even if you don't play."

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