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5 excellent reasons to play the Lottery

So you’re thinking of parting with a small sum of your money in return for a miniscule chance at winning the Big Prize, the Brass Ring, the Instant Retirement Bonanza, but you just can’t bring yourself to do it. Well, here’s a few reasons you can use to rationalize that minor expense, the Lottery ticket.

Bad at Math1. You’re (really) bad at math. Let’s look at the numbers. In a “standard” Lottery, say 6 balls from 1-50, the number of possible combinations is C(50,6), or roughly 16 million. That’s not so bad, you think, and you’d be right, but these kinds of lotteries rarely get into the rarefied air of the $50M or $100M payout, exactly because there are so “few” combinations. Replace that last ball with a “bonus ball” of 1-30, and now you’re at 30*C(50,5), more like 63.5M combinations (bonus balls can be the same number as any of the other balls, which greatly increases the number of possibilities). How’re those odds looking now? Well, what if the payout is $100M!? That’s still a good bet, right? It would be, if you got to keep it all. At today’s tax rates, and taking all the money up front (which you’d be really bad at math not to do), you end up with only 30% of the payout. I could go into how easy it is to get 2 or more winners on the same set of numbers, cutting your jackpot even more, but I think you get the point. The Lottery is so very rarely a “good bet”.

Loggers2. You hate trees. Again, let’s look at the numbers. According to “Lottery Wars”1, Lottery business in 2008 was $60 billion (with a ‘b’). Let’s be generous and call it $10 per ticket sheet and 6 sheets per page of paper. A “standard” 128 cu. ft. tree converts to about 10000 sheets of paper (an average of several sources, I’ve found counts of 9k, 11k, etc.). So $60B in tickets turns into about 100 thousand trees… in one year! Ok, so they probably use some portion of recycled paper, but even if that removes 90% of the trees, it’s still a large body (log) count. So if you aren’t hip to the green, Lottery’s a pretty good way to kill some off.

Free$3. You are an extreme optimist. Are you one of those people where the glass isn’t just half-full, but cut from a single diamond? Go ahead then, play the Lottery expecting to win. Alternatively, and with a slightly better chance of success, you could follow the next short guy in green you see to find his treasure. How about digging in your backyard for the Lost City of Gold, or even betting your friend that you’ll be struck by lightning … twice? These all seem to have similar chances of success.

donate4. You really want to help [insert Lottery beneficiary here] only, not so much. Some people like to justify their Lottery purchases thinking, Well, it helps the schools, or some such. Unfortunately, according to “Lottery Wars” again, on average less than 1/3 of the money collected by lotteries goes to the beneficary organization. Furthermore, in some cases (such as the California school system), this money is not treated as a windfall, but replaces money that is redirected elsewhere in the budget. You might be better off just buying some supplies for your local school.

dream5. At last, we come to the only really excellent reason to play the Lottery: to have fun! Lottery tickets make decent presents, especially for those people you don’t actually want to give anything, but feel obligated to spend money on. They also make great conversation topics. Run out of things to say to your spouse? Buy some tickets and regale each other with how much fun you’ll have together if you win, or even apart after the divorce you can now afford. Dreaming about vacations, home and car renovations, and gifts to loved ones is the biggest value from buying a Lottery ticket. Enjoy!

The Count

  1. The Lottery Wars, by Matthew Sweeney
  2. Lottery on Wikipedia

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