A Lottery Is a Taxation Upon All the Fools in Creation

William Petty? Henry Fielding? Adam Smith? Camillo Benso? James Wolcott? Marshall McLuhan? Roger Jones? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The winners of a recent lottery jackpot split more than one billion dollars. Yet the probability of a lucky lottery strike is smaller than an unlucky lightning strike. Economists, mathematicians, and wits have made sardonic remarks like the following:

  • A lottery is tax on stupidity.
  • The lottery is a tax on fools.
  • Lotteries are a tax on the mathematically challenged.

Who you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: Finding the earliest instances of this sentiment is difficult because expressions are variable. QI has located an example in the 1662 document “A Treatise of Taxes and Contributions” by the prominent English economist Sir William Petty. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Now in the way of Lottery men do also tax themselves in the general, though out of hopes of Advantage in particular: A Lottery therefore is properly a Tax upon unfortunate self-conceited fools; men that have good opinion of their own luckiness, or that have believed some Fortune-teller or Astrologer, who had promised them great success about the time and place of the Lottery, lying Southwest perhaps from the place where the destiny was read.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading A Lottery Is a Taxation Upon All the Fools in Creation


  1. 1662, Title: A treatise of taxes and contributions shewing the nature and measures of [brace] crown-lands, assessments, customs, poll-moneys, lotteries, benevolence, penalties, monopolies, offices, tythes, raising of coins, harth-money, excize, &c., Author: Sir William Petty (1623-1687), Chapter VIII: Of Lotteries, Quote Page 46, Publisher: Printed for N. Brooke, London. (Early English Books Online)