A letter in yesterday’s paper implied that in demonstrating horse-race betting to be a losing proposition I gave a pass to lottery betting, which is even more of a loser. I would hate anyone to think such a thing of me, after the ridicule I have expended on all forms of organized gambling, not excluding the New York State Lottery.
But I do thank the writer for pointing out the disparity between the odds on lottery games and the payoff amounts, which run about 50 percent of what the odds indicate.
If you bet with a friend on tosses of a coin, the odds are even, and there being no house to charge a commission, if you bet a dollar, you win a dollar.
If you bet on roulette at a casino, and you put your money on a single number, the odds of your winning are 37 to 1. If you win, you don’t win $37, but you do win something pretty close — $35, the casino having what’s known as an edge.
But if you bet a dollar by way of a lottery daily-numbers ticket, where the odds of winning are 1,000 to 1 for three numbers, and you’re lucky enough to win, you don’t get anything remotely close to $1,000. You get $500. Which is why lotteries are sometimes called a tax on people who can’t do math.
The New York State Lottery Division did $7.8 billion in sales last year and gave back $3.9 billion in prizes, which tells you all you need to know.
Horse racing is a little different, as I noted, since the customers are betting against each other, and the odds are determined not by the mathematical likelihood of a particular result, which is impossible to determine, but by the proportionate amounts bet. The track takes 20 percent off the top regardless of the result.
So yes, horse racing is bad as far as pay-off goes, but a lottery is far worse, and the odds of my endorsing either are long indeed.
Can you imagine anyone who professes to like music being so ignorant as to say the Lone Ranger theme song was Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture? I can’t either. It surpasses understanding.
Who would say such an idiotic thing? Well, let’s see, I leaf through the Sunday paper and I discover — jumping Jehosaphat! — it was me. Or it was I, if you prefer.
One emailer suggested I must have gotten a “bizillion” messages setting me straight. Another guessed 127 and asked to be added to the list. I won’t reveal the true number, but it was substantial.
As any fool knows, the Lone Ranger theme song was actually Bolero. Or was it the Moonlight Sonata? Let me think for a minute, and I’ll get back to you.
playing it safe
If you want to know what I think about the great debt-ceiling deal, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I have nothing to say beyond a demure disavowal of responsibility.
The reason is that I have my eye on the Republican nomination for president, and it’s clear that support for something so ideologically fraught and so uncertain as to outcome would not be in my interest. That’s just between you and me. It’s not for publication.
A few of my competitors have put one toe in the water. Michele Bachmann said the deal “spends too much and doesn’t cut enough,” which couldn’t be safer as far as appealing to primary voters goes. Anything government spends, except on the military, is too much.
Tim Pawlenty said the deal is “nothing to celebrate,” and that aroused my envy, since there is not a person standing who wishes to celebrate.
Mitt Romney, my principal opponent, said the deal “opens the door to higher taxes and puts defense cuts on the table,” which was a solid double, seeing as how higher taxes are unacceptable to all right-thinking people, and spending less on the military is also unacceptable. I wish I had thought of that one first, but I’ll let it go now and keep my peace. (Cut taxes, spend more on the military!)
I did check in with Paul Krugman, Nobel-Prize-winning economist, New York Times columnist and reliable gauge of liberal thinking. He said the deal is a “disaster.” We’re in a depression, and, “the worst thing you can do in these circumstances is slash government spending, since that will depress the economy even further.”
Then I checked with Glenn Beck, one of my favorite thinkers, using “thinker” pretty loosely, and he assured me, “We’ve just been betrayed by Washington.” Nothing new there.
The Democrats’ problem is that cuts were agreed to at all. The Republicans’ problem is that the cuts weren’t enough.
My problem is how to keep all my options open so no matter who is right, I’ll be safe. Maybe I’ll just say I have serious concerns.