California’s Vaccine Lottery is a Sucker Bet

As ABC News reports, California has selected the first 15 winners of a $50,000 grand prize as part of the state’s “Vax for the Win” program. The lottery is part of Gov. Newsom’s $116.5 million effort to persuade people to get vaccinated. Ten Californians who got at least one vaccination split a $15 million pot and vaccinated Californians will be automatically entered for chances to win $50,000. The first winners have yet to be identified, and some Californians have a problem with the lottery approach.

Professor Uri Gneezy of UC San Diego thinks the lottery sends the wrong message, that the vaccination might be risky. He would prefer gift cards for those getting vaccinated, which would promote spending at local businesses, “especially given the money comes from California’s taxpayers.” Professor Gneezy has a point, but the messaging problem has another side.

Beginning in 1985, the California State Lottery has been distributing 50 percent of lottery sales in the form of prizes. Education gets a minimum of 34 percent and 16 percent is the maximum for administration. Bureaucrats and lucky winners are doubtless delighted, but parents and taxpayers might wonder about the benefits in actual student achievement. On the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the “nation’s report card,” California ranks among the lowest.

The state lottery is essentially a confession that politicians and bureaucrats have done a poor job, but are willing to give some person a chance to defy the odds and strike it rich. During the pandemic, the state’s performance got worse. Former San Francisco supervisor Tony Hall cites “whipsaw and unrealistic lockdowns that have cost millions of Californians their businesses and life savings and have caused them personal grief. Millions of jobs have been lost, resulting in one of the highest unemployment rates of any state in America and certainly in our state’s history.” And so on.

The “Vax to Win” lottery ignores the poor performance but allows a few lucky people to bag some money. If Californians thought the vaccine lottery would do little or nothing to revive the state economy it would be hard to blame them.

K. Lloyd Billingsley is a Policy Fellow at the Independent Institute and a columnist at American Greatness.
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