How can you win a three-digit lottery

Lotto researcher Mark Lutter on gambling: "Illusion is very cheap"

Mark Lutter, 32, sociologist and lottery researcher, explains: The players come from the lower middle class and even know that they cannot win anything. Then why are they playing?

Mark Lutter: "The federal states should use the lottery money in a targeted manner to cushion the social consequences that they cause by organizing the lotteries." Image: dpa

taz: Mr. Lutter, you examined gambling with all the methods of social science. What do lottery players win?

Mark Lutter: Little. There are more attractive savings than filling out a lottery ticket every week.

MARK LUTTER, born October 8, 1976, is a social scientist. He is currently working as a visiting scholar at Harvard University.

They are suppressing the profit margins. These are exorbitant when a player wins several million with a five or ten euro tip.

That makes lottery games attractive. The three-digit million jackpot is a media hype - but it is well known that it is not won very often. To be precise, the statistical profit expectation is 1: 140,000,000. In roulette you have a chance of 1:37. The reality of the lottery players is of course a completely different, sober one. If you see lottery games as an investment for a moment, then the players have a negative return.

What does that mean?

Whoever plays has already lost. Half of the stake goes away. Seen in this light, the lottery is a particularly unfair game. Putting the money in savings would definitely bring a better result - statistically.

You just have to play more often.

That is a fallacy. If you gamble more often, the probability increases that you will approach the statistically expected return value - to gamble away half the stake. By the way, the players know that ...

and play anyway. Isn't that irrational?

92 percent of the players told us they didn't expect to win anything. They know how pointless their goings-on actually are. Only eight percent say they think they are likely to win.

What motivates the players?

It's about fantasies.

What do people dream of?

Of a better life. Lottery players invest in this performance every week. "You need a dollar and a dream," is the title of an American lottery advertisement. People imagine what they could afford. Two thirds of our respondents said they regularly dream of big wins. That always resonates - especially since the lottery-induced fantasy world is cheap: it costs a ticket.

A kind of self-deception.

Which is not limited to gambling. In saturated markets, i.e. where all needs can be satisfied, a product today has to offer more than just its practical value. A Rolex or a Prada bag are charged with illusions - especially cheap copies. They suggest to the owner that he belongs to a higher class. The consumer good fulfills dreams and wishes and generates social recognition.

But nowhere is the self-deception as great as in the lottery.

People don't actually buy a ticket. In truth, you buy the building permit for a castle in the sky at the lottery office. You have an imaginary part in a life full of goods - at least until the lottery fair announces the numbers. It is this dream that makes them accept the unfair rules of the lottery.

Why unfair?

Around 20 million people play once a week. Almost half of the population participates in the game once a year, in which they most likely will not win anything. Lotto is a mass phenomenon - with a very singular chance of success. The state organizes all of this. On the grounds of having to curb the population's propensity to gamble.

Who plays? The little people who want to escape their everyday lives?

You have to take a closer look. Precariously employed or unemployed people tend to play sporadically, but then with a relatively high level of commitment. Relatively, they spend the most money on the lottery.

Who are the frequent players?

The lower middle class. It is those who believe that they are placed in a place in society that is below their capacity. They feel that they deserve more compared to others.

The players are people who feel they have been treated unfairly?

That would be a theory. They are people who work full-time and who have fair enough money to buy a lottery ticket. But her job has no reputation. They have the feeling that the formal paths of advancement are blocked for them.

But what they want to climb up there is a fantasy ladder.

Most of them are people without a high school education. They know that winning the lottery is the only way for them to advance socially. Many are dissatisfied because they toil, but don't get the right recognition for it. This creates a tension that is reduced with the lottery game. They feel they have been treated unfairly - so they take part in a game of chance.

Even though this game is unfair?

It's not that tough. There are also other motifs. Lottery players have a theme. It is an opportunity for them to get into conversation with one another. And a big part of it plays because it's fun and interesting. Approximately seven million citizens play in syndicates with moderate stakes. The trauma aspect does not completely disappear, but it takes a back seat. The syndicate makes people more sensible, so to speak. Some players see the lottery as an investment. A cognitive misconception.

Are people too stupid to see through the game in hand?

You said that. In any case, the inclination to play decreases with the level of education. There are also desperate gamblers who hope to be able to radically turn their fate through a high profit.

What do the lottery players themselves say about the minimal chances of winning?

Chance alone decides, this attracts members of lower social classes because other factors are eliminated. "What I particularly appreciate about the lottery is that everyone has the same chance - regardless of their origin or talent," agreed 89 percent of all lottery players.

How much do people invest?

Lottery players wager 17 euros per month. That is the average. For the frequent players it is 30 euros.

Lottery rush looks different. You can't ruin yourself from it.

The extreme gamblers are naturally difficult to find out through surveys. But even if in the lower class it is only three to four percent of the disposable income that lottery players use, there is a redistribution from the bottom up - under state supervision.

How much money is it about?

Five billion euros are generated from games of chance for the tax authorities, almost a fifth of the state's tax revenue. State income from games of chance is higher than that from trade tax. Playing the lottery is therefore a very highly taxed asset.

Lotto is not a tax!

But it works like that. Lotteries are state events where 39 percent of revenue is guaranteed to be withheld. The state holds the lottery monopoly and even criminalizes the game if it is not involved. He distributes only half of the proceeds, 13 percent goes to the administration, the rest of the money is kept by the finance ministers. The lottery can be seen as a tax. And the business that is being done there is doubly unfair.

Why this?

In the case of the buyers, i.e. the players, the proportion of lottery expenditure decreases continuously with the income. This violates the important principle that a tax should only be levied according to the ability of the taxed person. For the beneficiaries of the lottery money, it is exactly the opposite. The higher layers benefit from this. The money also flows into institutions such as workers' welfare. Mostly, however, it is distributed in favor of the upper classes, cultural purposes are sponsored or art halls are financed.

Wasn't lotteries invented for that very purpose?

As sources of income for special goals. The first lotteries were held in the cities of early commercial capitalism in northern Italy and Flanders to finance port facilities. Later it comes to national feats of strength, such as the settlement of Jamestown, England's first outpost in America. Harvard University used a lottery to pay for one of its first libraries. In Germany, where the lottery was banned for almost a hundred years, it was reintroduced in the mid-1950s - for reconstruction.

What's wrong with that?

At first glance, nothing. On closer inspection, however, one can see that the state is making a fixed item in its budget out of the previously earmarked and temporary income. So it is today in the federal states. Bavaria or Hamburg put the lottery money completely in the state budget. Translated this means: The lower classes are seduced with the dream agency Lottery to cover the general household.

It's still better than when private betting shops completely ruin the lower classes - for the sake of pure profit.

That is the official reason for the lottery monopoly. The state protects people from gambling addiction. He controls the illusion machine in a moderate way, so to speak. Nevertheless, one should not indulge in any illusions when analyzing the lottery market. The job that the state is doing is not as honorable as it is doing as a guardian from the lottery frenzy. This can best be seen in how unfairly he redistributes income.

Why should the state act more fairly when playing the lottery than in other areas such as health, education or taxation. In all of these policy areas, the government favors the upper classes - at the expense of the lower middle class.

What you say may be correct empirically. But normatively, we don't get any further this way. One has to expect this much from the state: that it compensates for the social consequences of gambling and does not take advantage of them. We don't want to end up with George Orwell. For him, the weekly lottery was "the only public event for which the proletariat still had any attention".

What do you suggest? Abolish the gambling monopoly?

No. The federal states should use targeted use of the lottery money to cushion the social consequences that they cause by organizing the lotteries.

What does that mean in concrete terms?

If, in short, the non-high school classes pay the lottery tax, then they should also benefit from it. The state could use the lottery money to benefit the disadvantaged middle and lower classes by improving their poor educational opportunities. This is common practice in the United States because lotteries support educational programs financially.