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May 28, 2021

How lottery tickets ravage low-income families

It’s the dream of dreams. The ultimate fantasy.

Surely you – like I – have spent god-knows-how-many hours daydreaming about winning the lottery. And why not? By most measures, it’s the ticket to financial paradise.

But chances are, if you’re reading this, you’ve got a pretty firm grasp on how unlikely hitting the jackpot actually is. And by that extension, you probably don’t spend your grocery money or emergency fund on lottery tickets.

Sadly, this is not always the case.

In one of the most depressing, ever-perpetuating socioeconomic trends, new research from the Journal of Risk and Uncertainty shows that poor people continue to spend about nine per cent of their annual income on lottery tickets.

According to the study, residents of households earning less than $13,000 per year are classified as “poor,” meaning they’re spending about $1,000 annually on lotto tickets.

“The study neatly illuminates the sad positive feedback loop of lotteries,” writes Jonah Lehrer, an editor at Wired magazine. “The games naturally appeal to poor people, which causes them to spend disproportionate amounts of their income on lotteries, which helps keep them poor, which keeps them buying tickets.”

Now, you can’t totally  blame lower income families for relying so heavily on the lottery. In situations of financial despair, what other means do they have to escape?

But any way you slice it, there seems to be a reckless pattern among low-income earners that are, well, keeping them poor.

Consider, too, that poor families aren’t taking of advantage of money-wise tools like coupons either, and it’s no surprise that an estimated 20 per cent of lottery players these days are low income participants.

By Jason Buckland, MSN Money



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Gordon PowersGordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a financial services consulting firm. Gordon was a personal finance columnist for the Globe & Mail for many years, has taught retirement planning...

James HaversJames Havers

James is the senior editor of MSN Money living in Toronto. He has worked for the Nikkei Shimbun (Tokyo),,, Canadian Business and other publications. Havers turned to journalism after teaching overseas.

Jason BucklandJason Buckland

The modern-day MC Hammer of money, Jason can often be seen spending cash that isn’t his with the efficiency of a Wilt Chamberlain first date. After cutting his teeth as a reporter for the Toronto Sun, he joined the MSN Money team with...