Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Is the lottery more dangerous than the "Hunger Games?"

By Dean Obeidallah, Special to CNN
April 7, 2012 -- Updated 1507 GMT (2307 HKT)
A store in Baltimore, Maryland, where a winning lottery ticket was sold last week.
A store in Baltimore, Maryland, where a winning lottery ticket was sold last week.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Dean Obeidallah: The record Mega Millions jackpot became our national obsession last week
  • Obeidallah: The lottery had morphed into our own version of "The Hunger Games"
  • He says that lottery is not just a distraction but an opiate for the masses
  • Obeidallah: States should encourage people to use their money in a smarter way

Editor's note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is a political comedian and frequent commentator on various TV networks including CNN. He is the editor of the politics blog "The Dean's Report" and co-director of the upcoming documentary, "The Muslims Are Coming!" Follow him on Twitter.

(CNN) -- $640 million dollars. We all know that number. It's the amount of last week's record Mega Millions jackpot. The media coverage reached a fever pitch as the prize rose to an awe-inspiring amount of money.

I haven't bought a lottery ticket in more than ten years but even I was sucked in hoping that I could win, despite knowing that I had a better chance of dating Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Aniston -- at the same time. But I felt luck was on my side since I had recently received e-mails informing me that I had won the national lottery of Nigeria despite my never having ever purchased a ticket.

In any event, for a few days, the lottery joined us all in a collective moment of dreaming "what if..." If you simply chose six numbers correctly, your next stop would be a mansion and being able to finally tell your boss what you truly thought of him or her.

Dean Obeidallah
Dean Obeidallah

The media bombarded us with stories examining the lottery from every angle: The odds, the ways to increase your chances, how people would spend their new fortune if they won, etc. Issues like the presidential election, the economy and the Rush Limbaugh controversy faded to the back burner.

In a way, the lottery had morphed into our own version of "The Hunger Games." It became our national obsession.

For those who haven't read "The Hunger Games," it's a popular book series which is now the No. 1 film in America. In the story, the nation is obsessed with the "Hunger Games" -- an annual event in which contestants are chosen to battle each other in the ultimate reality TV show. The rules of the game are simple: The winner is the one person who stays alive.

Our lottery, along with the "Hunger Games, " share similarities with another game of chance: The gladiator games of ancient Rome. Despite the stakes being obviously different in each of these three types of games, all are state-sponsored forms of entertainment. And all three not only amused the citizenry, but lead the public to ignore -- however briefly -- the more pressing issues of the day.

But our lottery is far more dangerous than either the "Hunger Games" or the gladiator matches. The lottery is not just a distraction -- it's an opiate for our masses. The lottery can numb people into believing that since you have a chance to become a millionaire by simply spending a dollar on a ticket, then you can achieve the American dream without putting in the real work.

This mentality can dissuade people from battling the true barriers to economic mobility that threatens our society, such as the inability of many to afford a college education due to soaring costs, the gender wage gap that allow men to earn more than women for the same job, and the income stagnation that has plagued the middle class.

Despite the astronomical odds of winning the lottery, it is sold to us by the states as a realistic way of attaining dreams of a better life. Indeed, the states play on these very aspirations with their lottery slogans, like Minnesota's "What kind of mega millionaire would you be?," North Dakota's "If you don't buy a ticket, how is lady luck going to find you?," or Washington's "Whose world could you change?"

Michigan at one time even used a class-conscious slogan in its lottery commercials: "The Rich. Join them." This tag line took into account the reality that the ones buying lottery tickets are not "the rich." You're never going to see Donald Trump, Warren Buffet or even Mitt Romney in line at a deli to buy lottery tickets.

In fact, at least 20% of Americans play the lottery on a regular basis. Those who have lower incomes buy a higher percentage of tickets. And when unemployment goes up, lottery sales generally increase as people hang their hopes on this game of chance.

The 43 states that sell lottery tickets happily take money from their residents knowing full well the income levels of those who are buying the tickets and the grotesquely miniscule odds of winning. I'm not saying that we should ban the lottery, but states should not just tout the pipe dream of winning the jackpot. They should also encourage their citizens to use their hard-earned money in a way that can make them into true "winners" -- by saving for an education or investing their salaries in things that can actually provide a return.

The lottery is more dangerous than the fictional "Hunger Games" or historical gladiator games. In those events, only a handful of people suffered. In contrast, the lottery hurts millions of Americans.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dean Obeidallah.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1925 GMT (0325 HKT)
Maria Cardona says Republicans should appreciate President Obama's executive action on immigration.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1244 GMT (2044 HKT)
Van Jones says the Hunger Games is a more sweeping critique of wealth inequality than Elizabeth Warren's speech.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2329 GMT (0729 HKT)
obama immigration
David Gergen: It's deeply troubling to grant legal safe haven to unauthorized immigrants by executive order.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0134 GMT (0934 HKT)
Charles Kaiser recalls a four-hour lunch that offered insight into the famed director's genius.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0313 GMT (1113 HKT)
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0121 GMT (0921 HKT)
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2256 GMT (0656 HKT)
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 2011 GMT (0411 HKT)
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1519 GMT (2319 HKT)
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1759 GMT (0159 HKT)
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 0258 GMT (1058 HKT)
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 2141 GMT (0541 HKT)
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1216 GMT (2016 HKT)
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
ADVERTISEMENT