I bought four lottery tickets yesterday without leaving my couch—inspired by this story on the front page of the New York Post, I thought I’d try out the Jackpocket app.
In principle, I’m a fan of buying lottery tickets when the jackpot is high, as it is this week.
But seeking out a place which sells lottery tickets can be a pain; much easier to do the whole transaction virtually.
So, is Jackpocket good or evil?
The case for Evil is pretty simple.
Lotteries are a tax on poverty, and anything that makes it easier to buy a lottery ticket is just going to make it easier for lotteries to extract precious cash from the pockets of people who can’t afford to lose it. If you’re living paycheck to paycheck, or find yourself playing scratch-off lottery cards, then you should stop. Stone cold. The lottery is not good for you, and it’s not going to change your life.
The current system of having to buy lottery tickets at a physical location is a barrier to entry—a low hurdle, but a hurdle all the same. By lowering that barrier, more poor people will buy more tickets, which will effectively raise the tax on poverty.
But there’s a case for Good, too.
For one thing, Jackpocket, unlike the lottery itself, doesn’t really prey on the poor. Instead, it preys on the middle classes—the people with smartphones and credit cards and enough disposable income to be able to spend a few bucks now and again without really noticing it. It’s taking their money and channelling 30% of it to local schools, which is good for everybody, pretty much.
Jackpocket also makes it much easier to play the lottery in a rational way. “Rational” is relative, of course: you always expect to lose. But if you’re going to play, it’s fun and smart to play only when the jackpot is enormous. Up until now, that has required some kind of ability to keep track of two different jackpots twice a week; now, you can get Jackpocket to do that for you automatically, and only buy tickets when the jackpot is above $150 million. (I would personally prefer an even higher bar.)
Best of all, Jackpocket will automatically notify you if you win. This is the bit where I always #fail: I get all excited about buying my ticket (and, of course, that excitement is precisely what I’m paying for), but then I lose the ticket, or I forget to look up the winning numbers, or somehow else I never find out for sure that I lost. With Jackpocket, you get notifications that you bought your ticket (excitement!) and then you also get notified if you win. Brilliant.
Once you’re set up on Jackpocket, you don’t need to do anything: the app does everything for you, and you can live in a permanent state of thinking that maybe, just maybe, this week could be the week that you win the lottery and your life changes. What’s more, it’s free to the punters: all of Jackpocket’s revenues come out of the lottery’s built-in fees.
If I were a financial adviser, I might well recommend a small Jackpocket allocation for some of my clients. Not all of them, to be sure. But there are lots of people out there who like to gamble with their investments, and buy high-risk stocks in the hope of getting rich quick. That’s never sensible. Much better to put that money into a broad stock market index, and then make a tiny allocation to Jackpocket. You can still hope to get rich quick, but at least you won’t lose a large chunk of your retirement money doing so.
All in all, I’m going to say that even though the lottery itself is evil, Jackpocket doesn’t make it any more evil. Speaking for the millions of people who like to gamble small amounts of money on an irregular basis, I’m very happy I can now do this from my phone. I’m just surprised Apple is allowing me to do so.