Lotteries, Risk, and Infectious Diseases.
Updated: Jul 5, 2020
By RDG Principal Beth Pulliam
A few weeks ago, an organization known as Stop Predatory Gambling requested lottery betting to be immediately shut down in the US until at least 30 days after stimulus payments are received.
Reported in the Wall Street Journal, the ARTICLE reminds us that humans like to take risks. Think about it: speeding, dating, stock trading, sitting underneath a tree hosting birds (current situation as I write this). If you are not convinced of our proclivity to take risks, let me share with you an experiment conducted in 2015 by a World Bank-funded team in Lesotho, a tiny country in southern Africa.
When the study (full study HERE and summary listen/read HERE) was conducted in Lesotho, this country had the highest concentration rates of HIV infection — 40% of people between the ages of 30 and 34 were HIV-positive. The social health goal of the study was to reduce the transmission of HIV, i.e. encouraging safe sex. Summing up the study, participants were divided into two groups, both with the same health goal of not becoming infected with two types of curable STIs.
Group A: was to be tested every four months for the two curable STIs. This group was promised a small stipend to encourage their return for testing.
Group B: was not promised anything, but each volunteer was given a lottery ticket. There was a drawing every four months, and two men and two women of the group could get a $50 prize (a lot of money in Lesotho). If you won the drawing, in order to claim the prize winnings, you had to test negative for the two STIs.
Here is what happened: after two years, there was a 21.4% reduction in HIV infections in the lottery ticket group compared with the volunteers who received the small stipends!!
Want to go a little deeper? During the study, people who liked taking risks were identified (via gambling-based games, of course) and in this subset, the reduction of HIV infection was about 60%.
With the new health-crisis that we are all facing, what are you willing to risk? Hosting wine dinners with friends, attending quarantine parties, inviting over that new Margo Robbie look-a-like you matched with online (or if you prefer, Ryan Reynolds), or, heaven-forbid, protesting en masse in the streets? What if we were all given lottery tickets, and if you won you got to keep your job, your company, your house, but only if you hadn’t broken quarantine guidelines. But if you won and had not followed the restrictions, then you would get to start your economic journey from scratch. Does that seem like a risk you would be willing to take? Not I!
I live in Fort Worth, Texas, which right now seems to be the epicenter for confusion and indecision regarding re-opening the economy. Our Governor is moving towards opening everything soon (note that restaurants, salons, and retail are already open), while most of our major metro Mayors seem to hold the exact opposite opinion. Both purportedly relying on experts and working “with the best interests of our citizens in mind”! In the meantime, our political leaders are leaving it to all of us ordinary citizens to decipher this mess of inconsistency and try to do the right thing for ourselves, families, friends and neighbors.
Nobody wants to get back to work more than I do. But there’s a time and place for everything and risking our collective health and another economic collapse simply to get to work a few weeks earlier is not one I am willing to take!