The gambling industry has many critics but the state run lotteries gained a new one last Sunday when John Oliver, host of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight”, lambasted them for quarter of an hour.
In 2013 the host of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” took the summer off to make a movie in the middle east, producers used British born comedian John Oliver, a regular on the show, to replace him. This transpired to be inspired as the fill-in host received plaudits galore for his work over the summer that culminated with guest Regis Philbin kissing his head live on air, a moment that indicated just how much the TV establishment in the US had taken to John Oliver’s quirky style and sense of humor.
It was mere months after completing this temp job at the Daily Show that HBO gave Mr. Oliver a show of his own (on a two year contract with option for more) which became “Last Week Tonight” a half hour pulpit from which the hugely funny Mr. Oliver lambasts the ridiculous from around the world as well as from within the United States. It has been very successful and popular with some now talking openly of Oliver permanently replacing John Stewart.
• HBO’s Last Week Tonight damns state lottery operators
• Oregon and North Carolina worst offenders
• Illinois makes mobile gambling news with new lottery app
Last Sunday in his final show of 2014 John Oliver turned his ferociously funny gaze on the lotteries that now litter some 44 states of the Union. In a 14 minute long savaging the 37 year old comedian took the lottery industry to task on a number of salient issues typically citing their own data to back up his points. With surgical strikes on some of the worst offending states this blistering satirical report left the audience in no doubt that gambling has a new evil, and it’s not Joe Pesci.
He began by pointing out that states – who run these lotteries remember – spend half a billion dollars a year on smart strategies and advertising for lotteries across America which raked in 68 billion dollars in lottery sales in 2013 alone, a figure Oliver pointed out was greater than all the money spent on movie tickets, music, the NFL, MLB, video games and pornography combined, stating “Americans basically spent more on the lottery than they spent on America.”
Are States Imposing A Tax On The Poor With Their Lotteries?
He continued by pointing out that the odds of winning the lottery hover around 176,000,000 to 1 which was then likened to the chances of being struck by lightning at the same time as being attacked by a shark and that lotteries tend to pay out less of their income as a percentage than even horse racing. He also underlined the fact that proportionately it is lower income households that spend more on lottery tickets due to their small stake size and ubiquity of access.
Mr. Oliver even managed to make winning sound an unattractive possibility comparing it to being married to Tom Cruise, and noting that in Israel lottery winners are photographed in masks to hide their identities, with one Palestinian man meeting the press with a plastic shopping bag over his head. This, it was pointed out, probably didn’t indicate that winning the lottery was always a good thing. However Last Week Tonight saved its greatest ire for the states that run these businesses.
Mr. Oliver asserted that states knowingly provide a gambling service to a population a percentage of which has issues with problem gambling, and that they do so under the guise of a desire to add funding to public services – most notably education. He pointed out that Illinois lottery website, however, whilst having a page for “Responsible Gaming” did allow a pop up advert for the lottery itself to be run on that page, which was equated with giving an alcoholic a drink at their first AA meeting.
Further he damned states that have expanded a remit for lotteries into dubiously generous definitions of what a lottery actually is. Oregon particularly came under fire for its expansion into electronic lottery machines that look remarkably like they display poker or blackjack cards, or look just like fruit machines. The state took in 2 billion dollars, 80% of which came from the 12,000 machines they operate, and whilst this would seem like a shift towards more modern technology in the early 21st century, Mr. Oliver placed his finger on the real reason.
Statistics Indicate Machines More Addictive
A typical regular lottery player will lose, on average, the show highlighted, just 106 dollars a year, whilst a regular player of the electronic machines would, in the same twelve month period, lost some 2,564 dollars. This was cited as an indication of just how addictive these machines can be, more so than the average lottery which is sold to the population as being a way of being almost charitable, with much of the money supposedly going to help education.
In 1964, when New Hampshire held the first legal lottery in the United States, education was underlined as being where the money from this new game would go, however the reality was wildly different from that proposition, and still is today. North Carolina was the example here, having claimed it would gain half a billion dollars for education from the lottery on launch, it now spends less per student than it did when the lottery started, a fact that drew expletives from Mr. Oliver.
Worse still North Caroline highlighted the problem with lotteries as a source of funding, given it spent 100 million dollars of lottery money on school buildings but didn’t actual increase the spending on school buildings at all, it just cut corporation taxes that would have gone to education instead, the lottery money replacing not adding to the funding. In 24 states that use lottery money for education, only 3 have actually increased their spending on education.
The mad dash for your gambling dollar has seen states pursue wild casino strategies, building them like shopping malls, it has seen the rise of lotteries to this level of festering pestilence, and now online gambling arrives slowly but surely with Illinois launching a mobile lottery app. The long term effects of such widespread low-stake-low-chance gambling will become apparent in due course but John Oliver for one doesn’t believe its going to be a better educated class of children whatever the glossy adverts on television tell you.
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver will return in 2015.