Thoughts that came to mind while putting a lottery ticket in my wallet and walking across a parking lot .
“Buying A Lottery Ticket”, notice the emphasis on ‘A’. Conventional wisdom says don’t spend money on the lottery. Every day experience proves millions of people don’t listen to conventional wisdom. Buying ‘A’ lottery ticket has incredibly small odds. Buying too many lottery tickets can be an unwise idea, and may be the sign of an addiction. (Need to check for that? Here’s the Washington State link.) As usual, reality is in the middle, and there’s real value, there.
Let’s hammer the extreme, first; kind of as a public service announcement. Any addiction is something to manage, and usually not manage alone. Got doubts? Good. Personal awareness is a positive sign. Go check that out.
But, if everyone avoided everyone else’s addictions, the majority would miss out on a lot of living. Use does not equal abuse. Knowing the difference is a sign of maturity. Remember all of those notices about “Use Responsibly”? They mean it.
Let’s get the other downer out of the way. The odds stink. Even the best odds of the lotteries I play, Hit5, are 1 in ~576,000. Even the worst stocks probably have better odds. The smallest odds are 1 in ~303,000,000 for MegaMillions. But then, Hit5’s payout starts at $100,000; not enough to buy a house or even pay off my mortgage. While MegaMillions has almost lived up to its name with jackpots that have reached hundreds of millions. (Seems that a megamillion would be 1,000 kilomillions which would be one million millions which would be a trillion. Finally enough to almost buy out some mega-corporations.) Terrible odds. Why would anyone spend money on such bad odds?
Because, eventually, someone wins. If the odds of a million dollar lottery are one in seven million, and you heard someone won, and you think fewer than seven million tickets or numbers were picked, then your odds are better than one in seven million. The tricky part is that there isn’t always a winner; but when they do, they get that much more. As they say; “It could be you.” Said another way, “If the rest of your hard work isn’t working, then you can at least try this.”
An engineer friend pointed out a long time ago, that the odds of winning are ridiculously small; but the odds of winning go to zero if you don’t buy a ticket. So, buy a ticket and divide a teeny number by zero and get an infinite improvement; but buy two tickets and your odds barely change at all. So, Buy A Lottery Ticket.
If the lottery was all about mathematics, far fewer people would play, and the lottery wouldn’t pay. Lotteries do well, so they must be doing something well.
“If the rest of your hard work isn’t working, then you can at least try this.” For the large portion of the population that doesn’t have a few hundred dollars to handle even a small emergency, life can be long list of anxiety-filled episodes. A scratch, a leak in the roof or under the car, a computer or phone that’s acting quirky, a long list of getting by every day hoping everything makes it another day and another day. Such levels of anxiety are reasons to talk to a counselor, something they’d probably do if they had more money. The Chinese general and philosopher Sun Tzu cautioned about feeling trapped. People who feel trapped can become desperate. Give people a possibility of escape and they find a reason and a way to live. Whether that’s society’s intent or not, I know that a lottery ticket in my pocket is a piece of paper that buys hope. That piece of paper costs a lot less than an hour with a health care professional. Ironically, if I won the lottery jackpot, I’d probably make that appointment. One friend’s approach is to buy a lottery ticket, check its expiration date, and hang onto it for months; then, just before its time is up, he checks it. For months, $1 provided him a possibility of relief.
How much entertainment does $1 buy? There’s plenty of ‘free’ entertainment online; but it’s truly only free if you’re accessing it on someone else’s computer and internet connection without having to spend time or money getting to it. Time with friends can be free, but scheduling free time usually takes time. Have a ticket in your pocket and even a 30 second break while the computer crunches on some task, or some manager is delivering some boilerplate presentation to your group, your mind can wander off to as many ‘What Ifs?’ as you can fit in that time.
While the odds are small, the results are real. One measure of today’s world is a promo catch-phrase displayed on a lottery kiosk months ago. (paraphrased) “When did one million dollars become not enough?” Winning a million dollar jackpot thirty years ago would buy a house, even in the Seattle area. Even after giving up half to take the lump sum and paying the taxes, probably being left with ‘only’ $300,000, it was possible to buy a house, a nice house, or seed a nice retirement. Imagine buying some particular Seattle-area stocks in 1989. Now, today’s Hit5 jackpot of $120,000 is less than some starting salaries, Lotto’s jackpot of $1,600,000 pays out enough to buy a median-priced home in some of Seattle’s neighborhoods, leaving the significant payouts of PowerBall at $138,000,000 and MegaMillions at $65,000,000 with their odds that are similar to randomly picking one person out of the 300,000,000-some people in the US.
And, any ticket can be a winner. So, I buy a ticket. I look forward to writing that story.
Buying A Gift
A few years ago, when money was very tight, I bought tickets (Lottery Dreams). A bit of hope, a bit of entertainment, a relief valve from desperation, and a possibility. And then I realized I was buying something else. I’d watch to see when someone won, and eventually check my ticket. I wouldn’t wait months, like my friend; but waiting weeks was common. One time when I found that I didn’t win I thought about the fact that someone did. I felt good about that. Someone else who thought it was a good idea to buy a ticket, won. Maybe they needed the money, and maybe not. They probably had a really good day. I didn’t win, but I realized I helped someone else win. The winners can’t do it without the contributions of the rest. How much would you spend to know you helped someone else feel happy for at least a day? That’s worth much more than $1, to me. It may be sad that they need it in this society, but at least I can help provide it.
Washington State’s lottery has a handy feature for a lazy way to play. I don’t buy a ticket a day. I don’t even spend $1 a day. The drawings for Lotto and Hit5 are a couple of times a week. WA State allows players to play the same numbers for up to 25 drawings in advance. I give the ticket clerk $20, and get a ticket that’s good for weeks, twenty drawings. It’s somewhat like dollar cost averaging in investing. Instead of trying to pick the right time to buy, I keep myself covered by visiting the booth or kiosk about once a month or two. I might buy another ticket for overlap, or if I’m having a tough day, or if I think it would be a great story to win hundreds of millions and then give almost (not certainly not all) of it away.
By the end of the year, I’ve spent less than some people spend on one pair of shoes. For that, I get hope, entertainment, perspective, possibility, and most assuredly welcome gifts for several strangers. Those lottery tickets provide a lot of value for a few pieces of paper, and the value far exceeds the costs cautioned against by conventional wisdom.