Government-run lotteries have been called a tax on the stupid, and when it comes to the 20-state Powerball game, which has been boasting a record jackpot of $175 million, that goes double.

The odds against winning are about 80 million-to-1. The chance that you'll die from falling out of your bed is 40 times greater.Well, so what? If people want to have some fun and dream a little, isn't that their business?

The answer is that for some people the harm may be minimal but that lotteries remain a rip-off. There is not a state legislature in the land that hasn't outlawed lesser scams when perpetrated by private interests. When the odds of getting anything back for your money are this outrageous, the responsible con-artists are often trotted off to jail for well-deserved time away from their work.

It's well known by now that those gambling the most on lotteries are poor people. Cheerily dismiss that fact as an example of choices freely made if you're so inclined, but understand, too, that state governments have untiringly appealed for wagers through TV advertising .

Thoughtful people have asked whether it is a legitimate function of the government never to give a sucker an even break. A more appropriate function of government is to safeguard the citizenry from such abuses.