A recent epidemic of Powerball fever subsided last week with one winner and millions of losers - including society as a whole.
One woman who, with many others, waited in a long line to purchase lottery tickets summarized the situation nicely: "This is really stupid. I don't know why I'm doing this. The odds are completely against you."That they are, though she still felt compelled to take a chance. Gambling does that to people, holding out a mirage-like sense of false hope that dissipates with reality's dawn.
Standing in line wasting time and money, she and others felt sheepish enough not to reveal their names to reporters. Gambling has that impact, as well. It leaves participants with a diminished sense of self-respect. Ill-gotten gains are nothing to be treasured. Those who seek them and fail often feel all the sillier for it. What a waste.
Proponents argue in the face of fact that state-sponsored games of chance sustain school coffers and bolster local economies. That occasionally is the case, though not always. And even when it is, the benefits come with lots of bad baggage.
Documented social costs of gambling in various forms include addiction, higher crime rates, increased poverty and substance abuse. Those and related maladies place incredible pressure on families. Many low-income households see government-sponsored lotteries as quick and easy outs from their dire circumstances. They roll the dice with limited means, sometimes sacrificing necessities for their children, and inevitably come up empty.
Not everyone falls deeply into that trap, of course, but too many do. Those household practices may lead to other abuses and even to despair. It is not coincidental that three of the top gambling cities in the United States - Las Vegas and Reno, Nev., and Atlantic City, N.J. - have extremely high suicide rates.
There often comes a desperation and degradation from serious gaming that may be fueled by participation in lotteries such as Powerball. The $104.3 million payout last week to a retired couple from Illinois came from the foolish expenditures of millions of people. It was not money well spent.