A Massachusetts woman won the second largest Powerball payout in history, $758 million. She elected to receive a lump-sum payment of $480 million.
Lottery jackpots seem like staggering amounts of money. It is the most money anyone (if you don't count Prince Charles) has gotten for doing nothing.
The winner of any big Powerball gets hundreds of millions of dollars — and two hundred new relatives and friends.
One thing is clear: The real winner in the lottery is government.
If you think about it, government is like the Mafia. It runs numbers games (the lottery). It controls drugs (DEA/Customs/FDA). It controls guns (ATF). It has run guns via the Justice Department's "Fast and Furious" program. And, via the ATF and state excise taxes, it exerts influence over booze through taxes as high as $34 per gallon on whiskey. Pot is now dealt at the state level.
Government operates about the same as the Mafia but with less predictability and better pensions. A Mafia Internal Revenue Service would not target Tea Party groups that are paying their taxes.
Here are some rough numbers (rounded up) gleaned from this near-record jackpot that illustrate just how much money the government takes from citizens to allow them to gamble among themselves. To buy a $2 Powerball ticket, most people would have to earn about $3 before taxes. Much like cockfights, drug dealers and massage parlors, government accepts only cash for lottery tickets.
Government sold about $1 billion in Powerball tickets (bought with $1.2 billion pretax dollars) for a Powerball jackpot advertised at about $750 million. I hope you are sitting down — our government lied to you about this number. Top line numbers: About $1.2 billion of pretax dollars were taken from citizens to give them a $750 million up-front pot.
But that's just the beginning.
There are federal taxes of 39.6 percent on that amount won. Tack on a Tax-achusetts state tax of 5 or 12 percent percent (if you are lucky), and the government "only" takes half.
The jackpot now is down to $240 million — if you do not plan to die. Die in a few years, and government gets up to another 50 percent in total state and federal estate taxes, leaving the winner's family to split about $120 million in her estate.
To recap: The government gets $1.2 billion, less the winner's heirs' $120 million: a net of $1.08 billion. The winner's heirs get $120 million, or 10 percent of the jackpot, while government gets 90 percent.
A recent study concluded that 70 percent of folks who win the lottery are broke within seven years. Money does not come with instructions, and what the government does not get, hookers and family hangers-on often do.
Like Democrats, people always proclaim how magnanimous they would be if they won the lottery. But that's an empty, self-serving, meaningless gesture with money they don't have — just like a political promise. Few winners, if any, follow through.
Some say the lottery amounts to a tax on poor people who are not good at math. But just try to take it away. They love it. If you buy a ticket, the odds of winning are one in 300 million — and about the same if you do not.
Government tells us that Powerball profits go to education. With all the lottery playing in America, one would think we would have the smartest kids in the world by now.
Ron Hart is a libertarian op-ed humorist and award-winning author. Contact him at Ron@RonaldHart.com or @RonaldHart on Twitter.
What's your view? Write a letter to the editor.