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I'd never noticed before that the Help Center says:

Please note that the following subjects are considered off-topic here:

[...]

  • Questions about gambling or wagering

This is relevant to these two recently asked questions:

What is the relationship between the advertised and cash jackpots for Powerball (etc.)?

Are lottery tickets ever a wise investment provided the jackpot is large enough?

What's the rationale behind gambling and wagering being off-topic? I can see that we don't want very specific questions like "should I bet my money on this horse", but these two seem like decent general questions about how lotteries work.

Equally, I'd be fairly happy with a general question about how betting odds work.

  • 2
    Especially, why is the first one closed as off-topic and the second one not? – WBT Jan 11 '16 at 14:45
  • @WBT that may be more to do with who has looked at them than anything else. – Ganesh Sittampalam Jan 11 '16 at 19:13
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    That may be a factor, but even after plenty of time juxtaposing both together, with you and others seeing both, as far as I can tell neither you nor anybody else have moved to reopen the first nor close the second. It's not like there haven't been opportunities to make things consistent. It appears a decision has been made to maintain the apparent inconsistency. – WBT Jan 11 '16 at 19:20
  • For me at least it's inertia - faced with uncertainty, I tend towards inaction. But I'm hoping we can lay down a definite policy now on meta and then apply it. – Ganesh Sittampalam Jan 11 '16 at 19:55
  • ...and by the time that happens, there's a roughly 71% chance that interest in/attention to both of the cited questions (and others related) will have sharply dropped off for a while. – WBT Jan 11 '16 at 20:03
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    @WBT There are currently two votes to close the second one. (I'm one of them.) The initial version of the question was revised to bring it within scope, and, I believe, at least one person retracted his vote at that point. While I still personally think the question falls into the "off-topic" list as currently defined, it is different from the first in that it now asks about whether the lottery is actually gambling at all (due to high expected value) whereas the first question is purely about the mechanics of the lottery. I definitely think that's different in context of the current rule. – user32479 Jan 12 '16 at 15:29
  • @Brick The first question is a step towards determining an answer to the second. – WBT Jan 12 '16 at 16:29
  • @WBT As I said, I'm down for closing both under the current rules, but it's a question of where the line is drawn. You could find other on-topic questions that in some way involve basic knowledge of accounting or economics that would be off-topic themselves but are ok in context of a question more closely tied to personal finance. I'm not defending the rule - Just addressing your comment that you didn't think there was a move to close the second question and that there's some difference in degree that happens to hover (in this case) right around the line drawn in the rules for what's on topic. – user32479 Jan 12 '16 at 16:35
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The prohibition exists because I wrote the original site proposal that way, and it carried on through to the first on-topic list in the Help Center. Admittedly, you will find little to no mention of gambling or wagering at the Area 51 definition page for this site as no example off-topic questions related to gambling appear to have been submitted, that I can tell.

Before/when Area 51 was being introduced as the formal Stack Exchange 2.0 site creation mechanism, Stack Exchange had asked people interested in creating a new Stack Exchange site, in particular for us existing Stack Exchange 1.0 site owners interested in migrating, to post a proposal to the then-meta.stackexchange.com site.

While this is the original link to my proposal, it is no longer there since the site reset. However, I did find an archived copy at the Internet Archive Wayback Machine. I'll reproduce below.

Quoting myself from six or so years ago:

This proposal is for a personal finance and money StackExchange site. This is also a proposal to bring an existing SE 1.0 site, Basically Money, into the StackExchange 2.0 network.

Topic

A site to ask any questions about personal finance or money from an individual or consumer perspective: saving money, spending money, cutting custs, investing, retirement, borrowing, taxes, interest rates, insurance, credit ratings and history, etc.

While personal finance can be a localized subject (e.g. U.S. tax rules, Canadian retirement plan specifics, British government pensions) there is a lot more that can be discussed across geographic boundaries, so the site will support both geography-neutral as well as geography-specific questions through tagging. (Consider how Stack Overflow enables a Java developer to answer a C# developer's question about algorithms or patterns. Similarly, Brits, Americans, and Canadians could answer each other's questions about saving money, debt avoidance strategies, and so on.)

Target Audience

  • Average working people looking to attain financial literacy and find ways to save their money, minimize their taxes (legitimately), invest their savings wisely, plan for their childrens' education savings, plan for their retirement, etc.

  • Already financially-savvy individuals and do-it-yourself investors.

  • Financial planning professionals such as Certified Financial Planners, or others in the personal and household finance industry e.g. mortgage brokers, personal bankers, debt counselors, etc. whose goal it is to assist individuals / consumers with financial planning, products, or services.

  • [What other major groups may be interested?]

Disallowed Topics

  • Extended discussion or recommendations for/against individual stocks. i.e. no "buy" or "sell" recommendations. While it would be on-topic to ask questions about technicals or fundamentals using a specific stock as an example, the site doesn't intend to be another "stock board".

  • Gambling, lotteries, games of chance, wagers, betting – except it is permitted to discuss the taxation or investing of proceeds from such (legal) activities. However, I suggest that gambling ought to have its own StackExchange site, if somebody is interested in proposing one.

  • Advanced economics. However, economics from an undergraduate or layperson perspective is on-topic, e.g. to help people understand basic concepts of supply/demand, interest rate policy, etc. that affect consumers directly. I suggest that, like Math Overflow for math, a separate site for advanced economics is a good idea.

  • Advanced personal tax topics or tax for business. However, tax questions that commonly come up from a personal perspective are on-topic. I suggest that a separate site for advanced tax queries is a good idea.

  • Advanced or pro finance / trading – e.g. in forex, commodities, futures, options, swaps as typically practiced by professionals / dedicated day traders and not by individuals. I suggest that a separate site for advanced finance and/or trading topics is a good idea.

  • Questions promoting or describing how to do illegal or borderline illegal activities such as money laundering, smuggling currency, counterfeiting, income tax evasion, fraud, etc.

  • [What else should be off-topic?]

Good Questions

  • What is value investing? What are the key principles of value investing?
  • I just moved to the United States. What should I do to develop a good credit rating, fast?
  • Are bank customers allowed to provide username & password to sites like Mint.com?
  • It is legal for a retailer/store or other business to refuse $50 & $100 bills or other legal tender?
  • What can I replace Microsoft Money with, now that MS has abandoned it?
  • What is the difference between “good debt” vs. “bad debt”?

Bad Questions

  • [I'll come back and fill in some good "bad question" examples later.]

Thank You!

If you support the concept of this proposal, please up-vote and voice your support. I appreciate any and all feedback, comments, etc.

(It is interesting to see how the actual site definition has evolved over time; while some of what is above remains true for Money, some doesn't. The example "good questions" in my proposal aren't necessarily so, today.)

UPDATE:

I'll add that, at that time many years ago when we were invited to submit a preliminary site proposal for a Stack Exchange 2.0 community, one of the guidelines was specifically to outline questions that ought to be considered off-topic, because one of the problems that existing Stack Exchange 1.0 sites were suffering from was lack of definition and a free-for-all approach to what might be considered on-topic.

And so I had thought to exclude questions about gambling/lotteries/etc. except insofar as those questions have an impact on one's personal finance. The intent wasn't to exclude all gambling/lottery questions, just ones that were about game mechanics, rules, etc. and had no component involving or affecting personal finance (taxes, losses, etc.) So, IMHO, the way this question was rephrased has made it on-topic.

  • 1
    What would you think about simply removing this off-topic reason? I think most of the "bad" questions we might get could be ruled out for other reasons. – Ganesh Sittampalam Jan 11 '16 at 19:56
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    My post was more to provide the historical answer as to the "why?" part of the question, not defend it. As long as the questions are still centered around personal finance, I'm OK with the change. Questions primarily about betting strategies, probability theory, etc. ... those I think aren't really subjects of personal finance and are more about the game. – Chris W. Rea Jan 11 '16 at 21:51
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I think that the prohibition against gambling and wagering questions would be because this site doesn't want to have to deal with the pure math questions.

The question https://money.stackexchange.com/questions/57932/how-does-powerball-work is purely a math problem.

Questions about taxes related to winning are on-topic. Ones about the best game to play at the casino aren't.

Another issue can be those questions that are really just legal question, when they want to know how to avoid taxes, or how to get around some countries limits on internet gambling.

  • Arguably all of accounting is purely a math problem. Or applied math. Maybe a new SE ought to be created - appliedmath.stackexchange.com. Then physics.stackexchange.com and money.stackexchange.com can be merged into it. Yay! Also, there was the "But that aside, let's say there were somehow 292,201,338 distinct combinations" bit of the question, which money.cnn.com answered quite nicely at money.cnn.com/2016/01/11/news/powerball-jackpot-win-guarantee/… – neubert Jan 13 '16 at 16:08
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I think that questions about how lotteries work (And similarly, questions about how games of chance work etc.) should be off-topic for this site. They're not questions related in a meaningful way to personal finance, and would be better suited in their own site (which I think has been attempted a few times?).

I think the second lottery question - is a lottery ever a good investment - was a reasonable one for this site, but quite on the edge. I don't think I'd welcome a question about "is a slot machine ever a good investment" or similar; I see the lottery question as slightly different only because people do believe it is a good investment (and, as Eric et al showed, it is from a point of view).

I don't think it has anything to do with math (there's nothing wrong with questions requiring math here, in my book); it has to do with its relevance to personal finance. Nobody goes to the casino thinking it's a good strategy to invest their money (aside from professional poker players, I suppose, and then it's a job). But anything about lottery mechanics/etc. would fall in the gambling bucket for me. (Then again, some of the questions we have about currency speculation...)

  • Fellow Joe, agreed. It's a slippery slope, a fine line, and I'm good with gambling off topic. OTOH, if there's overwhelming support for it as on-topic, I'll back off, and ignore the questions that aren't of interest to me. – JoeTaxpayer Jan 14 '16 at 23:24
  • If someone is curious if a slot machine is a good investment they need some serious advice in personal finance. Just because the answer seems obvious to you, doesn't make the question off topic. – Myles Jan 15 '16 at 21:48
  • @Myles Yeah, I'm okay with having a basic reasonability filter. – Joe Jan 15 '16 at 21:52
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The decision to exclude these topics in the first place seems to have been arbitrary and was even then accompanied by a suggestion that such topics might do well having their own SE site, though today any attempt to start one might meet resistance questions like "why can't that just be a subset of questions on Money.SE to the extent they're about finance, or on one of the game sites to the extent they're about rules of a particular game?" Without the personal experience of having had a relevant question on this topic closed & kept closed here, I might even be the one to ask such a thing.

I would say that these sorts of questions are on-topic here, or at least not in the "off-topic" list.

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