November 28, 2017

A Tax on the Poor – The Lotto and the Surprisingly Common Sad Aftermath of Winning

Filed under: Randomness — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Today I Found Out
Published on 1 Jun 2017

In this video:

It’s been called a voluntary tax on the poor and under-educated, with people spending a whopping $60 billion a year in the United States alone on lottery tickets, most of which are purchased by low income individuals. (All total, about 20% of Americans play the lotto). Despite the high number of lotto tickets purchased annually, when playing the lottery (in all its forms), you’ll win an average of just 53 cents for every $1 you spend, making it one of the lowest return rates of any form of commercial gambling, and thus extremely profitable for the various government bodies who run the lotteries.

Want the text version?: http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2012/12/on-average-people-who-earn-less-than-13000-a-year-in-the-u-s-spend-5-of-their-gross-earnings-on-lottery-tickets/

August 6, 2016

QotD: The sunk cost theory of relationships

Filed under: Economics, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

“Seriously?” you’re asking. “Love is like … automobile manufacturing?” Well, no. But companies are composed of people. And people tend to make the same sort of mistakes over and over. This particular mistake is so common that economists have a name for it: the sunk cost fallacy.

A sunk cost is, well, like a sunken ship: It’s gone, and you cannot retrieve it, or you can only retrieve it at immense expense. The correct and rational way to deal with a sunk cost is to ignore it — to make decisions without thinking about the money or time you’ve already invested.

Think of it this way: If you’re horribly ill and you’ve spent a bunch of money on tickets to a show, there’s no point thinking about how much the tickets cost, because no matter what you do, you can’t get it back. What you should be thinking about is whether you will enjoy the show in your current condition. Making yourself miserable will not somehow rescue the money; it just layers another cost — the agonizing hours you will spend wishing that you were home in bed — on top of the cash you used to buy the tickets.

Unfortunately, human beings are terrible at thinking this way. Once we have lost something, we become desperate to get it back. The sunk cost fallacy appears over and over in all facets of human life: Think of companies that spend vast fortunes trying to salvage doomed IT products, or compulsive gamblers who go back again and again trying to get even with the house, a feat that is mathematically nearly impossible over the long run. Even if we’ve never darkened the door of a casino, when we are dealing with sunk costs, all of us easily turn into wild gamblers, ready to take ultra-long shots rather than admit the loss and move on.

And boy, does it show up in relationships. I cannot count the number of women I have watched throw year after year into a doomed relationship because they are desperate to redeem the prime dating years they have already wasted on a man who does not want to share his future with them. Every one of them said afterward that she wished she’d cut things off when it became clear that he wasn’t as enthusiastic as she was.

Megan McArdle, “Happy Valentine’s Day! Now Cut Your Losses”, Bloomberg View, 2015-02-13.

December 4, 2015

Don’t bet on Quebec recapturing all that gambling money

Filed under: Cancon, Law, Liberty, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Michael Geist on the Quebec government’s latest attempt to limit the freedom of Quebec internet users:

If there is a first rule of the Internet in Canada, it is “thou shall not block.” Canadian Internet service providers face a wide range of policies that have implications for accessing content including net neutrality rules and the copyright notice-and-notice system. Yet in virtually all cases, blocking or removing content is simply not done (the lone exception is a limited, private sector led initiative to block child pornography images).

My weekly technology law column […] notes that unlike other countries which have dabbled in mandated takedowns or Internet filtering, Canada has largely defended an “open Internet”. Canadian law does not mandate that Internet providers take down content due to unproven allegations of copyright infringement or allow them to alter or change content. In fact, the Telecommunications Act stipulates that “a Canadian carrier shall not control the content or influence the meaning or purpose of telecommunications carried by it for the public.”

Despite the clear legal mandate to avoid blocking, earlier this month the Quebec government introduced unprecedented legislation that would require Internet providers to engage in content blocking. The new bill targets unlicensed online gambling websites as part of the government’s efforts to increase revenues from its own online gambling service, which has thus far failed to meet expectations.

June 17, 2015


Filed under: Economics — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 8 Feb 2015

Speculation is often considered to be morally dubious. But, can speculation actually be useful to the market process? This video shows that speculation can actually smooth prices over time and increase welfare.

Speculators take resources from where they have low value and move them through time to where they have high value. We also take a look at speculation in the futures market — for instance, can orange juice future prices help predict Florida weather? Let’s find out.

May 7, 2015

QotD: Pina Colada

Filed under: Humour, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Not that we down south have any excuse for self-satisfaction while we allow the atrocity of the Pina Colada to flourish unchecked in our midst. I ask your tolerance while I explain this disgusting concoction is made by pouring into a tumbler over ice a measure of something called Malibu, which describes itself as tropical coconut laced with light Jamaican rum, and filling up with a semblance of pineapple juice, fizzy or still according to whim. Just the thing for a little 95-IQ female, fresh from a spell on the back of the bike, to suck at while her escort plunges grunting at the fruit machine.

Mind you, he’ll be no ornament to his sex either, quite likely clutching a lager and lime — an exit application from the human race if ever there was one.

Kingsley Amis, Everyday Drinking: The Distilled Kingsley Amis, 2008.

March 6, 2015

Las Vegas, home to “the country’s most developed surveillance state”

Filed under: Business, Liberty, Media, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Megan McArdle recently visited Las Vegas and her reactions were recorded pretty much everywhere she went:

So this weekend, I went to Las Vegas for the first time. I’m not much of a gambler — I quit playing when they raise the minimums past $5 — but there’s enough of a theme-park aspect to the place that a few friends and I managed to have a terrific time. Two things immediately stand out to the libertarian visitor: In some ways, it has the most liberty of any place in the U.S. — and it also has the country’s most developed surveillance state.

First, the libertarian aspects: All sorts of things that aren’t allowed in normal cities are positively encouraged on the Vegas strip — gambling, obviously, but also things such as drinking and smoking in public. The casinos still allow smoking, and every bar is happy to give you a to-go cup if you don’t want to linger. I’m a little old for all-day drinking, but I did wander around an arcade with a frozen margarita, reveling in my newfound freedom.


Now for the creepy aspects: There are cameras everywhere. In the casinos, obviously, but also on the streetlights, the walls and every overhang. When I asked the cab driver whether there was much crime on the Strip, he laughed and pointed to the cameras. “No crime,” he said. “No point. Cameras everywhere.”

So I left Vegas with a question: Is the friendly police state the price of the freedom to drink and gamble with abandon? Whatever your position on vice industries, they are heavily associated with crime, even where they are legal. Drinking makes people both violent and vulnerable; gambling presents an almost irresistible temptation to cheating and theft. Las Vegas has Disneyfied libertinism. But to do so, it employs armies of security guards and acres of surveillance cameras that are always and everywhere recording your every move.

This is a question I’ve asked myself before, funnily enough, when arguing with anarcho-capitalists. For those who do not follow the ins and outs of libertarian sectarianism, anarcho-capitalists want to replace the state with private institutions, with insurance companies and private security forces substituting for most current government functions. But when I’ve probed into the actual mechanics of this, I’ve often found that anarcho-capitalists end up describing something unpleasantly like a police state, only not called “the government” — like giving insurance companies and private police forces the ability to perform warrantless at-will searches in order to prosecute crimes. One way or another, society is going to protect itself against theft and violence, rape and murder, and putting those tools in the hands of private parties causes much the same trouble as they do in the hands of the police.

July 2, 2014

“Fixing” soccer games for fun and profit

Filed under: Business, Law, Soccer — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:49

Bill Barnwell discusses what we know (or what we’ve been told) about corruption in soccer matches all the way from Finland to Cameroon to the current World Cup fixtures in Brazil:

Late Monday night, FIFA’s worst nightmare began to break. The Cameroon Football Federation sent out an urgent press release announcing that they were investigating claims that several of Cameroon’s recent matches were fixed, most notably the country’s 4-0 loss to Croatia during the group stage of the World Cup. The allegations come from a story in German newspaper Der Spiegel, which reported that notable alleged Singaporean match fixer Wilson Raj Perumal told the paper in a pre-match Facebook chat that the African side would have a player sent off in the first half before losing 4-0. Both would later occur in the match. Perumal further alleged that the Cameroon team had “seven bad apples” and has been involved, to some extent, with fixing all three of its group stage matches before exiting the tournament.

Perumal has since issued a statement, via the co-authors of his biography, denying that he predicted the result.

Of course, allegations of fixed soccer matches aren’t anything new. What makes this so shocking and so meaningful is the idea that a World Cup match was fixed. It’s one thing for some third-division match under a rock in front of 40 people to be rigged. If a World Cup match can be manipulated with the globe watching, though, is there any match that can’t be fixed?


Perumal and an associate eventually found their way to Scandinavia, where they would fix matches at a number of clubs in Finland. Most notably, Perumal offered to invest more than a million Euros in struggling Finnish side Tampere United if they allowed him to invite several awful players from outside the country on the take to come play for the club. They took about half of the money and didn’t bother to play the players Perumal brought on; they’re also now banned from Finnish soccer. For some of his fixes, Perumal was actually able to issue instructions during matches to players on the pitch from the team bench.

Perumal suggests that he didn’t need influence over much of a team to fix a match, preferring to focus on the defense. “I prefer back-line players: the two central defenders, the last man stopper and the goalkeeper. If you can get three back-line players on your payroll then you can execute a fix because, when you want to lose, the attackers can’t help you,” he wrote.


As for Cameroon, well, it’s hard to say what will become of them. If there are seven players on the team who are proven to have fixed matches at the World Cup, their punishment will be severe, with permanent banishment from the sport a likely option. I’ll be intrigued to see what the investigation reveals, even if I’m very skeptical that an investigation conducted by the Cameroon FA and FIFA will be very thorough. They have little to gain from revealing their own corruption. I don’t know that Cameroon necessarily manipulated results during this World Cup, but I would be surprised if the entire tournament actually went untouched by match fixers. There’s simply too much to be gained and too little to stop it from occurring.

November 29, 2013

Taxation on gambling would be a money loser

Filed under: Britain, Economics, Government — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 09:40

Tim Worstall explains why it would make no sense whatsoever to impose taxes on the winnings from betting:

The point about betting of all types, including this spread betting, is that the winnings of some people are, and must be, entirely offset by the losses of others. Yes, certainly, there are companies in the middle who organise things and they are taxed on their earnings and profits in the usual manner. But the winnings of some punters come from the losses of others.

It’s also a pretty standard part of the UK taxation system that if there is going to be tax charged on the income or profits of something then there will also be an equal allowance against losses on doing that same thing. For example, Gordon Brown changed the law on a company selling a subsidiary: no longer would corporation tax be changed on any profits from doing so. But so also a company could not claim a tax credit for a loss from doing so.

So, if we introduced a tax on betting winnings we would also need to have a system of credits or allowances for betting losses. And here’s the problem with that idea: betting is a less than zero sum game. The winnings of any person or group of people are obviously the losses of all other people betting. So tax charged would be equal to tax credits gained. But it’s worse than that as the bookies are also getting their slice in the middle. Meaning that total winnings are less than total losses. So our credits and allowances for losses would be higher than any revenue gained from the winners.

May 11, 2013

Early betting line implies Vikings have gotten worse since 2012 playoffs

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:02

This is the sort of thing that gets pinned up on the locker room wall. Last season, the Vikings were a playoff team with a 10-6 record, including a win over the Green Bay Packers in week 17 that clinched the playoff berth. Early betting lines from Las Vegas have them favoured to win only five of the first 15 games of the season:

Week 1: Vikings are 2-1/2-point underdogs at Lions.

Week 2: Vikings are 2-1/2-point underdogs at Bears.

Week 3: Vikings are 6-1/2-point favorites vs. Browns.

Week 4: Vikings are 1-1/2-point underdogs vs. Steelers (in London).

Week 5: Vikings bye week.

Week 6: Vikings are 2-1/2-point favorites vs. Panthers.

Week 7: Vikings are 3-point underdogs at Giants.

Week 8: Vikings are 1-point underdogs vs. Packers.

Week 9: Vikings are 1-1/2-point underdogs at Cowboys.

Week 10: Vikings are 1-1/2-point favorites vs. Redskins.

Week 11: Vikings are 6-point underdogs at Seahawks.

Week 12: Vikings are 4-1/2-point underdogs at Packers.

Week 13: Vikings are 1-1/2-point favorites vs. Bears.

Week 14: Vikings are 3-1/2-point underdogs at Ravens.

Week 15: Vikings are 3-1/2-point favorites vs. Eagles.

Week 16: Vikings are 2-1/2-point underdogs at Bengals.

The Cantor folks did not issue early lines on Week 17, mostly because they have NO idea which players will be sitting out that week in anticipation of the playoffs. So your guess is as good as theirs who will be favored when the Vikings play host to the Lions on Dec. 29.

I’m not saying that going into the final week of the 2013 season at 5-10 is impossible, but if it gets that bad, Rick Spielman, Leslie Frazier and company will all be polishing their resumés because they won’t be back for the 2014 season. A result like that would pretty much require all of the following conditions to be met: Adrian Peterson has a career-worst year, Christian Ponder has a similarly bad year, none of the three 2013 first round picks turns out to be NFL-quality at their draft position, and Greg Jennings turns out to be too old and frail to play football any more.

April 14, 2013

Alternet: Ten facts about state lotteries and the poor

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Government, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 11:20

While I don’t object to lotteries existing, I still don’t think governments should be running them, but they’re involved in most states and provinces:

State lotteries amount to a hidden tax on the poor. They eat up about 9 percent of take-home incomes from households making less than $13,000 a year. They siphon $50 billion a year away from local businesses — besides stores where they’re sold. And they are encouraged by state-sponsored ads suggesting everyone can win, win, win!

State lotteries, which once were illegal, now exist in most states. What many people don’t know about lotteries is that they prey on those who can least afford it; most people never win anything big; and 11 states raise more money from lotteries than from corporate taxes. Beyond the moral, mental health or religious debates over gambling, lotteries are another example of how society preys on the poor and the working-class.

Let’s look at why state lotteries do far more harm than good — especially at the bottom of the economic ladder.

[. . .]

4. They hit the poorest the hardest. “Simply put, lotteries take the most from those who can least afford it,” wrote economist Richard Wolff. “Instead of taking those most able to pay (the principle of federal income tax in the U.S.), state leaders use lotteries to disguise a regressive tax that falls on the middle and even more on the poor.” A 2010 study found that households with take-home incomes of less than $13,000 spent on average $645 a year on lottery tickets, which is about 9 percent of their income. The reason people play lotteries varies, but it mixes hopes and dreams with desperation: poorer people see it as a slim chance to radically improve their standard of living.

5. Communities of color, less-educated spend the most. Numerous academic studies have found that non-whites spend much more on lotteries than whites, with one study putting the figure at $998 for African Americans and $210 for whites. Household with incomes under $25,000 spent an average of about $600 a year, while $100,000-plus earners spent about $300 year. People who never graduated from college spent the most, about $700 a year, while graduates spent under $200.

Of course, being Alternet, we have to have at least one of our traditional straw men to knock down:

7. They give the wrong message about solving poverty. Lotteries reinforce libertarian political messages, suggesting that everyone needs to take individual action in response to society’s inequities, even though the government has helped well-connected individuals, businesses and industries become rich for decades. This easy money for states diverts political debate away from society-wide analyses and solutions to what prevents people from moving up the economic ladder. Instead, it pushes individuals in marginal circumstances toward gambling as their hope for gain.

I’m not sure what is “libertarian” about corporate welfare, crony capitalism, and other economic distortions on the part of government to favour certain people over others, but setting aside the slur, this is otherwise a valid point. Encouraging people to take individual action? I don’t see buying a lottery ticket as falling into that category.

February 20, 2013

“People are terrible judges of randomness. That is why we invented statistics”

Filed under: Gaming, Science — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 10:51

One of the gaming blogs I’m quite fond of had this rather neat explanation of why humans are so bad at detecting true random distribution (the rest of the post discusses this in a Guild Wars 2 context):

The other thing that may be a factor here is that people are terrible judges of true randomness. As an example take the following two images. Which do you think was generated by the most random process?


It turns out that the image on the left was generated by simply placing 100 random stars with in the fixed area using a random number generator. The image on the right was generated by first dividing the entire area into 100 squares and then randomly placing a star inside each of those squares. See for yourself in the image below. No two stars are in the same box.


It is hard for a lot of people to accept that the image with the black stars is in fact generated by a more random process than the image with the blue stars. This has a lot to do with how the human brain is constantly looking for patterns. When the brain sees these patterns it attempts to correlate them to a cause even if a cause does not exist. Essentially, this is the illusion of luck. It is why people can believe that they are on a “hot streak” or why they might believe an object gives them an increased chance at success. Some call this the Gambler’s fallacy. In the end it is all the same thing. People are terrible judges of randomness. That is why we invented statistics.

February 7, 2013

Soccer’s greatest scandal yet … may be far worse than the 680 fixed matches we’ve heard about

Filed under: Law, Media, Soccer — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 12:13

Soccer is a huge global sport (yes, my American friends, it really is). It’s also the favourite sport for Asian gamblers to lose money over, and Europol has highlighted 680 “suspicious” matches so far:

It’s huge news, not because the results are particularly surprising — there’s plenty of other evidence, even recent evidence, that match-fixing is rampant in global soccer — but because the sheer extent of the allegations means that we can no longer delude ourselves about what’s happening. This is what’s happening: Soccer is fucked. Match-fixing is corroding the integrity of the game at every level. It’s not just South African friendlies or Korean league games or Chinese “black whistles”; it’s not even just the occasional Calciopoli-type scandal that you can explain away by saying “well, Italy is Italy.” Operation Veto found suspect World Cup qualifiers, suspect European Championship qualifiers, suspect Champions League games. It found 150 suspect matches at the international level, on multiple continents. It found 380 suspect matches in Europe overall. It found a suspect match involving Liverpool that was played at Anfield, arguably the most celebrated club and stadium in England.

These are tip-of-the-iceberg numbers. The investigation didn’t turn up every instance of match-fixing everywhere; they’re just talking about the possibilities they’ve turned up. Concise evidence of what’s still hidden: Europol revealed that they’d found $11 million in organized-crime profits. Sound a little low to you? Chris Eaton, the former FIFA security director who now runs the International Centre for Sports Security in Qatar, thinks the actual number is maybe a hundred times that high.

So let’s say I told you that a major international law-enforcement agency had uncovered a mountain of evidence that indicates the most popular sport in the world was being manipulated by a criminal ring that was profiting to the tune of — conservatively — millions of dollars. On one level, that’s good news, isn’t it? I mean, it’s terrible that it happened, but now that the police know, things can change! We’ll see arrests! We’ll see books opened! The truth will come to light! At a minimum, FIFA will take strong and immediate steps to make sure this never happens again. Right?

Let me answer that question by referring you to the phrase that I hope will be your primary takeaway from this piece. Soccer. Is. Fucked.

February 13, 2012

Greek government expands categories of disabled to include “compulsive gamblers, fetishists and sadomasochists”

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Europe, Government, Health — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:04

At a time most people expect the Greek government to be cutting back, the Labor ministry just expanded the recognized disabilities to include a few categories that will raise eyebrows:

Disability groups in Greece expressed anger on Monday at a government decision to expand a list of state-recognized disability categories to include pedophiles, exhibitionists and kleptomaniacs.

The National Confederation of Disabled People, calling the action “incomprehensible,” said that pedophiles could be eligible for a higher disability pay than some people who had received organ transplants.

The Labor Ministry said the categories added to the expanded list — that also includes pyromaniacs, compulsive gamblers, fetishists and sadomasochists — were included for purposes of medical assessment and used as a gauge for allocating financial assistance.

October 17, 2011

It was “a moment of mass credulity on the part of the nation’s media”

Filed under: Britain, Media, Technology — Tags: , , , , , , , — Nicholas @ 12:59

Cory Doctorow points out that no “adult content” filter is a replacement for parental guidance and supervision:

Last week’s announcement of a national scheme to “block adult content at the point of subscription” (as the BBC’s website had it) was a moment of mass credulity on the part of the nation’s media, and an example of how complex technical questions and hot-button save-the-children political pandering are a marriage made in hell when it comes to critical analysis in the press.

Under No 10’s proposal, the UK’s major ISPs — BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin — will invite new subscribers to opt in or out of an “adult content filter.” But for all the splashy reporting on this that dominated the news cycle, no one seemed to be asking exactly what “adult content” is, and how the filters’ operators will be able to find and block it.

Adult content covers a lot of ground. While the media of the day kept mentioning pornography in this context, existing “adult” filters often block gambling sites and dating sites (both subjects that are generally considered “adult” but aren’t anything like pornography), while others block information about reproductive health and counselling services aimed at GBLT teens (gay, bisexual, lesbian and transgender).

[. . .]

The web is vast, and adult content is a term that is so broad as to be meaningless. Even if we could all agree on what adult content was, there simply aren’t enough bluenoses and pecksniffs to examine and correctly classify even a large fraction of the web, let alone all of it (despite the Radio 4 newsreader’s repeated assertion that the new filter would “block all adult content”.)

What that means is that parents who opt their families into the scheme are in for a nasty shock: first, when their kids (inevitably) discover the vast quantities of actual, no-fooling pornography that the filter misses; and second, when they themselves discover that their internet is now substantially broken, with equally vast swathes of legitimate material blocked.

August 30, 2011

QotD: Casinos are a neon-decorated IRS

Filed under: Government, Humour, Liberty, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 12:07

. . . no phenomenon of nature could possibly be as strange as the alternative reality one encounters entering Wendover, Nevada. In that physical regime, hotels and restaurants are connected to—and often concentric with—caverns with mirrored ceilings, walls, and columns, making it difficult to find your way across the room. Serried ranks of electronic slot machines are clung to by half-starved-looking wights — the cigarettes in their hands nothing but long cylinders of gray ash — worshipping runes that appear when they insert a coin and watch the lights and listen to musical notes that would make a Pac-Man fan start screaming, tearing his hair, and running for the roof with a rifle.

To be sure, there are other kinds of gambling going on. I saw a poker room, roulette wheels, and a genuine James Bond baccarat table. But they were truly lost in a great labyrinth of electronic slots. I was surprised not to see slot machines on a free wall of the men’s room.

I’d seen all of this before, mind you. I was in Las Vegas last year, and it was my second time. I first saw it only a couple of years after Bugsy Siegal did. And I gotta confess to youse guys, I just don’ geddit.

What I mean is, there are a number of points of view that various human beings have, which I am forced to accept purely intellectually. I know there are men who find other men sexually attractive, but I don’t really understand it. I know there are grownup people who seem to go into shock when they discover that their aged parents still enjoy sex — I think my mother would have lived longer if she’d had a boyfriend. And I know — but do not understand that folks like to hand their hard-earned money to casino owners who already have plenty of it.

Casinos are like a neon-decorated IRS.

L. Neil Smith, “The Past That Never Was — The Future That Will Never Be”, Libertarian Enterprise, 2011-08-28

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