[FOUNTAIN]Loony for Lotto

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[FOUNTAIN]Loony for Lotto

One in five American adults buys a lottery ticket every week. Half of all Americans will nod yes if asked the question, "Have you bought a lottery ticket in the last 12 months?" Pick-6 Lotto, a lottery game in which each player selects six numbers, is the most popular among Americans. The jackpot of last spring's Big Game Lotto, organized collectively by seven U.S. states, grew to $363 million over eight weeks because there had been no winner. Every gas station and convenience store in those seven states was crowded with people buying tickets.

If we remember that the initial capital for the establishment of Ivy League colleges, including Harvard, Yale and Columbia, was raised through lotteries, we can see that lottery culture in the United States is indeed deep-rooted.

Korea's first lottery, begun in December 1947, aimed to raise the funds for Korea to participate in the 1948 Olympics in London. The Welfare Lottery came along in 1949 to help victims of natural disasters. In 1956, the Patriot Lottery was issued to repair the nation's industries after the Korean War. The Housing Lottery, introduced in 1969, became popular because the selection of winning numbers was televised live every week.

But in light of its short history, Korea's lottery culture is too heated. Even credit card receipts and subway tickets buy you a chance in a lottery. Currently eight institutions run 13 kinds of lotteries. The lottery market is said to have reached 500 billion won ($385 million) a year. A new sports lottery, in which prizes are awarded according to the final scores of sports matches, will further swell the market.

One lucky man recently won 2.5 billion won in a lottery, the highest-ever individual prize in Korea. It is said that the numbers on the three lottery tickets which he bought for 6,000 won matched the numbers for first, second and third prizes. The prize value (at $1.92 million) may be dwarfed by the $197 million which an American won in 1999 - the largest jackpot ever. But to most working people it still represents unimaginable wealth.

Governments have often used lotteries as an expedient to raise funds instead of hiking taxes. Italian cities in the Renaissance sold lotteries to launch various projects. The Palace of Versailles in France was constructed partly on the proceeds of lotteries. Burrhus Frederic Skinner, a U.S. psychologist, says governments collect funds from their citizens not only through coercion and by threatening punishment but also by offering an incentive, a dream. Most lottery ticket buyers are working class. We should ponder whether it is right to collect the money of all working people seduced by the "jackpot" but reward just one.

The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Bae Myung-bok

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