Editor’s Desk

Column: My lottery winnings are what?

July 11, 2014 

Saw an interesting email from the N.C. Lottery last week.

A Durham woman won some lottery game and she was a $1 million winner. It said so right there in the headline of the press release. The press release also said she was going to pay off her house and auto loans and take a trip to Hawaii.

That sounded like a pretty well thought-out plan, so I decided to read further into the press release.

Turns out the woman didn’t win $1 million after all, even though the photograph accompanying the press release showed the lady holding one of those oversize checks with “$1 milion” in big bold print.

This lady chose to take her winnings in a lump sum, which is what most folks choose to do. Apparently there is an automatic 40 percent penalty if you choose to take your winnings that way, so she actually won $600,000.

But then, I read further. It would seem taxes take another $185,000 off the top. So the woman actually deposited $415,000 in her bank.

A pragmatist might say that’s still a pretty good return on a $10 investment, and I suppose there’s some logic to that.

Still, I wonder who thinks it’s anything less than disingenuous to call her a $1 million winner. The woman didn’t get anywhere near $1 million.

That’s part of the argument House Majority Leader Skip Stam has been making for some time in his personal and legislative battle against the lottery.

At one point in my life, prior to the creation of the lottery in North Carolina, I was exiled to the state of Virginia, a circumstance which delighted my mother because I could buy lottery tickets for her. I detested the idea of buying the tickets for her, in part because I had already gotten my fill of standing in line at the convenience store to buy my Mountain Dew and waiting behind someone who was trying to fill out a lottery ticket.

But I also hated to see my mother throwing good money after bad. So deep was my frustration that I refused to spend my money on the tickets. I made my mother pay me back for everyone I purchased for her. Of course, she never struck it big and most folks don’t.

Apparently though, even those people who do match the winning numbers don’t win it nearly as big as lottery officials would have us believe.

I know it’s not a sexy headline to report that a Durham woman is a $415,000 winner. That’s not nearly as enticing to the reading public as it would be to promote a $1 million winner.

I suspect most people see beyond the ruse that lottery promoters are trying to sell us. And, since it’s so readily apparent, I can’t help but wonder if the lottery isn’t doing itself a disservice by promoting winners as something they are not.

Doing that is a tacit admission by the lottery that they think North Carolinians are too dumb to know any better.

I just hope the $415,000 winner from Durham enjoys her trip to Hawaii.

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