Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Last Call For Behind The Powerball

While you're dreaming of that winning lottery ticket for Wednesday's drawing, remember that as Think Progress's Jedd Legum points out, multi-state lotteries like Powerball and Mega Millions are scams where the house always wins.

In October, the consortium of states that runs Powerball approved a series of rule changed that made it much harder to win the jackpot. Under the new rules you select five of 69 numbers, up from five out of 59 numbers. The choices for the Powerball was actually reduced from 35 to 26. Still, this decreased the odds of winning the jackpot from 1 in 175 million to 1 in 292 million.

The purpose of this change was to increase the chances that there would be no grand prize winner for any given drawing. When this happens, the prize pool rolls over creating giant jackpots. At the time the rule changes were first floated in July, FiveThirtyEight estimated that the chances of a $1 billion prize pool increased from 8.5% to 63.4% over a given five year period.

At the same time, the decreased number of choices for the individual Powerball made winning small $4 prizes more likely. “The rules change is intended to increase the odds of winning any prize, while making it more difficult to win the jackpot prize,” the New York State Gaming Commission wrote in a memo supporting the change.

The purpose of creating massive jackpots is because they induce more people to play. The prospect of big payouts spark a flood of free media attention, encouraging people to speculate on how a windfall would impact their life.

And it's a regressive tax that hits those who can least afford it.

The “slump” in lottery ticket sales, of course, is relative. In 2014, Americans spent $70.15 billion on lottery tickets. That’s about $630 for every household in the United States.

Spending on lottery tickets exceeds the amount of money spent on sports tickets, books, video games, movies and music, combined.

For all the money Americans spend, they get very little in return — particularly the poorest.

The odds of winning any lotto jackpot are extremely low. And that means people spend a lot of money without getting much, if anything, back. Players lose an average of 47 cents on the dollar each time they buy a ticket.

And it’s those who can least afford to lose any money who are most likely to be buying tickets. Low-income people account for the majority of lottery sales, while sales are highest in the poorest areas. One study found that the poorest third of households buy more than half of the tickets sold in any given week.

Profit from those ticket sales go to government coffers. The share of lottery profits that is paid out to players varies greatly by state, from just 15 percent in West Virginia to 76 percent in Massachusetts. But even that smaller share in the latter state is an important source of revenue. In 2009, lotteries in 11 states brought in more revenue than the corporate income tax. And thus the lottery acts like an implicit 38 percent tax on mainly the poorest people.

That right, in 11 states, people fork over more for lottery tickets than corporations do in taxes.  As a result, states cut services and taxes from those who can afford it, because the money's coming from those who can least afford it but are most willing to volunteer for the "sucker tax".

And in the end, we all lose this game, because the house always wins.

Without A CAIR In The World

Democratic Reps. are inviting representatives of the Council of American-Islamic Relations to President Obama's final State of the Union Address tonight, a move that's sure to piss off the GOP (But you know what? Good.)

Reps. Zoe Lofgren (Calif.) and Alcee Hastings (Fla.) will both be hosting representatives from CAIR chapters in their respective states, the group announced Monday.

Lofgren will be bringing Sameena Usman, a government relations coordinator in the San Francisco office, while Hastings will host Nezar Hamze, the chief operating officer of the nonprofit's Florida branch.The announcement comes days after Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), the first Muslim elected to Congress, challenged Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to bring a Muslim American as one of his guests to the speech.

"This is an opportunity to really drive the point home that there are no Americans who are suspect just based on their religious identity, that all Americans are welcome in the people’s house," Ellison said in an interview with The Hill.

Demoratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) has also urged Democratic lawmakers to bring Muslims to the speech as a rebuke to what she sees is anti-Islamic language from the right.

"The rhetoric and vitriol that has been targeted at this community has been absolutely outrageous and unacceptable," Wasserman Schultz said at a news conference according to The Sun-Sentinel.

"And as a member of a minority religion myself, one that has faced persecution throughout our existence, to me the idea that we would stand idly by and ignore that and not stand up and use our voices to stand up for our brothers and sisters in the Muslim-American community was just unacceptable."

My dislike for Wasserman Schultz aside, she has a definite point about the constant Republican rhetoric of rampant Islamophobia, and challenging these bigoted assholes at every opportunity is absolutely the right way to go.

Dipsatches From Bevinstan: Dis-Kynect-Ed

It's official: the most successful state health insurance exchange in the country had a good run, but as of end of the month, GOP Gov. Matt Bevin is closing the doors on Kynect.

Following through on a campaign pledge, Gov. Matt Bevin has notified federal authorities he plans to dismantle kynect, Kentucky's health insurance exchange created under the Affordable Care Act.

The decision drew immediate fire from health care advocates, including Bill Wagner, executive director of the Family Health Centers, a network of public health clinics in Louisville.

"It's a great disappointment," Wagner said. "It's an unwelcome setback in our efforts to reach the number of uninsured people and improve access to health care in Kentucky."

In a Dec. 30 letter to Sylvia Burwell, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Bevin said he plans to wind down the state health exchange and transition Kentuckians to the federal site, healthcare.gov, to shop for insurance under the law also known as Obamacare.

Meanwhile, kynect remains open and the changes will not affect anyone shopping for insurance for the current enrollment period, which ends Jan. 31. Nor will the changes affect anyone who signed up for Medicaid, the government health plan for low-income citizens, through the kynect site.

Bevin's office said Monday in a statement that his goal is to eliminate "the redundancy" of Kentucky's online health exchange.

Advocates had urged Bevin to keep kynect, a website praised for its accessibility and ease of use. They said helped hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians sign up for health coverage. It also included a public information campaign and workers to help people get health coverage.

"That's really disappointing," said Emily Beauregard, executive director of Kentucky Voices for Health, a coalition of advocacy groups. "It's a lot more than just a website."

It is, or was, and now Kentucky will join the ranks of those who will have to sign up on the federal exchange.  There's the added bonus of taking the state exchange apart and getting Kentucky on healthcare.gov by October to cost Kentucky taxpayers tens of millions of dollars, but Bevin can just blame that on Obama too.

He can't keep an Obama program that works, after all.  It has to be destroyed. Otherwise, people in Kentucky might stop hating the black Democrat.

As they say, elections have consequences, and for hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians, those consequences are going to get really ugly, really soon.


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