President Barack Obama won't be joining the throngs of Americans lining up to buy a Mega Millions ticket, the White House said Thursday as the multi-state lottery's jackpot hit a record estimated $540 million jackpot ($389.8 million if you take the cash option).
But "I'm going to run out and buy one," press secretary Jay Carney lightheartedly told reporters as he wrapped up his daily briefing.
Earlier, at a deli a few blocks from the White House, customers lined up six deep to trade their greenbacks for the salmon-pink tickets, some of which bear the mention "D.C. Lottery Commemorative Ticket" and "I played the world's largest jackpot!"
Carney is among the best-paid staffers at the White House, making $172,200 in 2011, according to official salary disclosures.
Writer Ambrose Bierce once called the lottery "a tax on people who are bad at math"—and the president has previously called it a "regressive tax" that affects lower-income Americans disproportionately.
The website Buzzfeed unearthed Obama's comments on the subject in 2000, when he appeared on a television panel show as a state senator from Illinois and openly worried about the game's impact on the less-well-off.
Asked by the host whether the lottery is a good investment, the future president replies: "It certainly isn't."
"One of the concerns that I have, obviously, is that a disproportionate number of people who consistently buy lottery tickets tend to be lower-income and working-class people who can least afford it—even if they're not compulsive gamblers, they are probably spending money that they don't necessarily have," Obama said.
Obama said studies show that working-class people tend to buy more lottery tickets and stressed that "the fact that the state systematically targets what we know to be lower-income persons as a way of of raising revenue is troublesome."
Obama allowed that some people may be spending their "entertainment dollar" on the lottery rather than a movie, but concluded: "I would argue that if you look at it as a whole, in most states across the board, this tends to be a form of regressive taxation, and I don't think it's necessarily the fairest way for us to raise revenue for us in the state."
His remarks did not spark the same outrage as when he offended Las Vegas and Nevada officials with repeated comments urging Americans not to "blow a bunch of cash" in the gambling paradise. Those comments even drew a rebuke from Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who urged Obama to "lay off Las Vegas."
Update, 5:08 p.m.: Story has been updated to include the archival video of Obama's comments
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