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How We Can Fix This Economy for $1

Tuesday, 3 Feb 2009 | 9:34 AM ET

Your chance of winning the lottery is something like 150 million to 1.

And yet, that doesn't deter nearly half of the American population from playing the lottery each year.

What's worse, lottery sales tend to rise during tough economic times as more people bank their financial future on a dollar and a dream and those who already play think a few extra bucks will increase their chances. (OK, so like 50 million to 1? Woo hoo! Betty, get my real-estate agent on the horn. Momma needs a new pair of mansions.)

"When people feel like they are behind compared to where they were yesterday, they want to make up for that," Emily Haisley, a postdoctoral associate at Yale who has studied lotteries, told the AP. "They become risk-seeking in order to catch up and the small hope of winning becomes more attractive."

There is actually a correlation between the rise in lottery sales and the rise in the unemployment rate, John Mikesell, a professor at Indiana University, found in a 1994 study.

"When times are tough, the prospect of spending $1 on a remote chance to potentially change your life is appealing," Mikesell told the AP.

That may be bad news for your personal economy, but it's great news for states, which use that money for education, parks, recreation and other projects.

More than half of the states that have lotteries reported their sales were up in the last six months of 2008, when things really started to get ugly.

In Washington, D.C., for example, instant-lottery-ticket sales hit a record $45 million in fiscal 2008, up 11 percent from the previous year.

Massachusetts lottery revenue jumped 7 percent to a record $4.7 billion.

Nationwide, an estimated $17 billion is spent on lottery tickets every year, and you can bet that number will go up this year.

This is America!

When someone tries to beat us down, we get out our wallets.

When someone fires us, we get out our wallets.

We don't let no stinking rough patch get in the way of our dreams.

So thanks, America. Your brash denial of the statistical obvious is actually boosting state budgets — from sea to shining sea.

We're gonna get this economy back on track, one dollar at a time!

Questions? Comments? Write to ponyblog@cnbc.com.

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