The common saying is that the lottery is a tax on the poor. I think this is an unhealthy way of looking at the lottery. I don’t believe people –especially the poor, who should be saving their money– should play the lottery and indeed should recognize it as a dangerous and addicting form of gambling.
But this does not mean it is a tax.
The sine qua non of a tax is that it is coercive and involuntary. Whether you defend taxation or not, whether you like it or not, you must at least recognize that taxation is categorically a means of wealth transfer based on the use of aggression; as opposed to the market means based on mutually agreeable exchange. All taxation is backed up by threats and violence. This is why, if you don’t pay your taxes, you ultimately go to jail. At first of course you will get “reminders.” Then you will have fees and penalties. Then they will put a lien on your assets. Then, if all these fail, they will come by and physically put you in a cage. Such is taxation.
What happens if you don’t pay the lottery?
You save money. You can put this money away in a sock, or spend it on food, or pay a bill. Et cetera. Lotteries are voluntary. They require self-discipline in order to stay away from them. No one forces the poor to play the lottery. Yes the lotteries are well-marketed. They promise the world in exchange for a couple bucks. This surely is tempting for an individual who cannot keep up with his monthly payments. The lotteries promise that everything will be better. They encourage one to “dream big.” But if someone falls for the marketing, ultimately, he must accept responsibility for his own actions. He must learn from his mistakes. Next time, he must say no.
But the lottery is not a tax on the poor. Simply because it is not a tax.
Don’t play the lottery. But don’t mischaracterize it either.