The Lottery

Odds Are:  Lottery Tickets as Discarded Currency and Non-Progressive Income TaxLottery.Collage.jpg

On March 15, 2005, I began collecting discarded lottery cards from the streets of New York City. I did this because I was struck by the discontinuity between the declared value of disused lottery cards and their actual value. People feel very lucky if they find a dollar bill on the street. Yet, here I was walking down the street looking and stumbling upon a piece of paper with a value of $10 stamped on it. This piece of paper was worthless; this was a consensus. We all agree and acknowledge that this object is worthless. And yet it has a value printed on it. And yet it has a value printed on it. Value, like matter does not disappear. But where does it go?

I’ve always been intrigued by wishes and by people’s fascination with the potential for sudden and dramatic transformations. Based on conversion and redemption fantasies, playing the lottery to me is a very public manifestation of this wish for transformative change. In studying the lottery—the materials associated with it, the kinds of beliefs that players have about it, and the language surrounding it—I hope to understand how and why this kind of wish is so prevalent in our society, as well as the unseen consequences of spending on the lottery.

The cards I am collecting are Scratch & Win cards, which come in a number of different styles based on different seasons of the year, as well as in various valuations: $1, $2, $5, $10, and $25 (!). I want to create a visual representation of the approximate number of cards that an individual would have to purchase in order to “game” the odds of winning the following amounts: $200 (if playing $1 cards); $100 (if playing $2 cards); $400 (if playing $5); $500 (if playing $10 cards). The odds of winning $1,000,000 with a $5 card are 1/3,528,000; to win $2,000,000 with a $10 card, a player’s odds are 1/2,352,000.  And, of course, the odds of winning the Wednesday, January 13, 2016 NY State PowerBall “jackpot” of $1.5 billion are 1/292,200,000, so I guess the overall take-away from all of that is…


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