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The Concept

The Reverse Lottery is similar to a regular lottery, except that contestants receive money for taking tickets. Ideally, a person may take any number of tickets. The monetary value of these tickets is added into a reverse jackpot as they are drawn. This process continues until a "winner" draws a "lucky" ticket, and then must pay the amount currenty in the jackpot to the Reverse Lottery Commission. If there are multiple such "winners," then just as in a real lottery, they will split the cost.

Practical Concerns

Leaving aside ethical and legal considerations for the moment, there are a few practical issues involved in implementing such a system. The most glaring problem is what to do when the lottery winner cannot afford to pay off the jackpot. Auctioning off houses, property, internal organs, and so on can only go so far. One possibility would be to continue randomly selecting winners until, collectively, they can pay the full amount. This would have to happen the moment someone draws the winning ticket, to prevent the jackpot from increasing even further. Also, the ticket numbers of each contestant must be carefully recorded, and their movements somehow tracked to ensure that they can be contacted for collection should it become necessary. Realistically, it would also be necessary to limit the number of tickets an individual could draw, to prevent the jackpot from growing too large.


The concept of the Reverse Lottery raises some interesting questions about human risk perception. In an ordinary lottery, the odds of losing a small amount of money are very high (nearly certain), while the odds of winning a large amount of money are very low (nearly impossible). In the Reverse Lottery, the odds of gaining a small amount of money are very high, while the odds of losing a large amount of money are very low. Assuming for the moment that the odds of winning are the same as those for a real lottery, would a person who would enter an ordinary lottery enter the Reverse Lottery? What about someone who would not enter an ordinary lottery? What if the odds of winning were more, or less, than a regular lottery?

Related Ideas

The closest example I have found in fiction comes from an episode of the TV series Sliders ("Luck of the Draw"), in which the inhabitants have taken the warnings of Thomas Malthus seriously, controlling the population through what basically amounts to a Reverse Lottery. Anyone can withdraw any amount of money from the lottery, with the chances of "winning" increasing as more money is taken. The winners are treated to a day during which they can have anything they want from any store, followed by a lavish formal celebration. The next morning, they are quietly euthanized.

A somewhat similar idea comes of the short story The Lottery, at least insomuch as it is a lottery that no one wants to win.

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