When the Israeli State Hustles the Poor

Haaretz Editorial
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A Mifal Hapayis stand.
Haaretz Editorial

The largest source of income of the Mifal Hapayis national lottery is the game Chance, which brings in 3.7 billion shekels ($1.2 billion) a year – about 40 percent of its total revenues (Haaretz, October 22). Chance reached this status thanks to two features: relatively high chances of winning compared to the other games that the lottery offers gamblers, and, mainly, very frequent lotteries.

From Sunday to Thursday there are seven rounds of Chance lotteries every day, with another three on Friday morning and two on Saturday night. The large number of lotteries provides what addicts need: new hope once every two hours, from 10 A.M. to 10 P.M. The internet age has made gambling games very accessible, and the national lottery decided that it cannot be left behind and developed lotteries that may provide an internet-wide solution for contestants, but also increase the percentage of gambling addicts in Israel.

Usually these are impoverished people, and there is a reason why Hebrew University economist Prof. Momi Dahan, who has researched the field, calls the Mifal Hapayis lotteries “a tax on the poor.” Dahan found that there are more Mifal Hapayis sales points in areas with lower-income populations, and that the more prosperous the community, the smaller its number of Hapayis kiosks.

And in spite of that Mifal Hapayis has no regrets about its role in exacerbating the addiction of people who are already suffering financial problems. Its mission is to increase its revenues and profits, and it justifies its actions with the claim that most of the profits are returned to the community through the construction of community centers, by encouraging Hebrew literature (the Sapir Prize) and by supporting artists. These goals really are important, but the arrangement is that those who finance them are those who can’t afford them – because expenditures on housing, food, health and education come first.

The high frequency of Chance lotteries seems to be a surefire recipe for increasing the addiction rates. And as opposed to private gambling sites on the internet, here it’s a state-owned business – which should therefore take into account the damage caused by this game.

Perhaps people have a need and even a right to gamble and participate in lotteries, but they are not a basic consumer item that the state has to provide once every two hours. It looks as though the government itself has become addicted to the sentiment-free ease of extracting money from impoverished people by means of gambling and a false hope that dissipates after two hours. These addicts deserve a different kind of chance.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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