Why government-run lottery monopolies are a regressive tax -- and a stupidity tax.
The biggest winner of the multistate numbers game is -- drumroll, please -- Uncle Sam.
Powerball is a government-sponsored gambling racket in 44 states, plus Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The feds automatically skim 25 percent off the top of a lump-sum cash award. Additional state withholding taxes vary depending on residency status. Mega-winners are taxed at the highest federal income tax bracket (nearly 40 percent); those who live in states with personal income taxes could pay up to an additional 9 percent. Local municipal taxes can add another 3-5 percent to the tax burden.
Government lotteries of all kinds raked in a whopping $70 billon in revenue last year, according to the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries. Cash-strapped states pitch the rackets as civic enterprises by purporting to earmark a portion of proceeds for public education, economic development and mass transit, senior citizens' programs, professional sports stadiums and environmental protection.
As I've noted during previous, high-stakes lotto crazes, the state bureaucrats who run these schemes for numeracy-challenged consumers are free to ban outside competition -- including private slot machines, phone betting, instant pull tabs and card rooms. The feds help out by limiting sweepstakes and Internet gambling, as well as exempting state lottery marketing materials from Federal Trade Commission regulations that guarantee truth in advertising.
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