D.C. Lottery betting on keno

D.C. is adding a keno games to its lottery system. See my earlier diatribe about lottery games in general; keno is almost as bad with regards to the house's edge over the player.

Keno is easy to play, but impossible to win. You pick a bunch of numbers between 1 and 80, the house draws 20 numbers in that range, and you win money based on how many of your picks are drawn. Simple enough; it's not unlike most other lottery games. But take a look at the odds: in a 10-spot game, the odds are picking all 10 numbers correctly are 1 in 8,911,711. If you play a $1 DC Keno ticket and manage to beat those odds, your return on the $1 is... a measly $100,000. And, if you were dumb enough to cover all 8,911,711 combinations at $1 a pop, you would win back $5,617,409. While that's better than my earlier example with the multi-state lottery (I computed a house edge of 73 percent in the Mega Millions game--you would collect $36.7 million in winnings if you bought all 135.1 million combinations of tickets for $135.1 million), it's still a house edge of 37 percent (which varies little, no matter how many spots you play); still much, much worse than you would find in almost any bet of any game in any casino in the world.

The money they collect from these games goes into the D.C. General Fund (and not solely to education--wow, what a non-surprise). However, there's pretty good evidence out there that the people who play state-run lotteries the most are those who can afford it the least. Jacking the house edge up to 37 percent and higher, making it much harder to win money back, only exacerbates the problem, in a city that has some of the most extreme poverty you'll find in the U.S.

Now, I'm just here to hate Washington; I'm not generally in the business of proposing solutions to the things I have problems with. But I think this begs the question: why not just open casinos in D.C.?

OK, casinos may very well may be banned by the Home Rule Charter, which I'm too lazy to wade through. And yeah, having casinos in Our Nation's Capital might seem like a black eye on the country, but, let's face it, the District is already a black eye.

Seriously: if you're going to have gambling, why not go all out and do it (more) fairly to boot? Games like blackjack, craps, and video poker can have a house edge of as little as 2 percent if you use the proper basic strategy. In other words: it's actually possible for the player to win if he gets a lucky streak, but the house still has enough of an edge to make money in the long run. Plus, for a city that's constantly trying to draw people in (both tourists and residents), this would certainly do the trick, as the closest real casinos are three-plus hours away in Atlantic City (I think?).

Or, at the very least, open card rooms, like they have in California. People could come play poker legally, and the District gets a cut of every pot.

Wow. All of a sudden I would have a reason to stay here. And I wouldn't have to fly to Vegas every four months to get my gamble on. Which reminds me... it's about that time again...

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