Monday, January 11, 2016

One Billion Three Hundred Million Dollars!

More money is spent annually in America on lottery tickets than on sports, books, games, movies, and music combined!

I wasn’t planning on writing another post on the lottery, but then I went to get some beer at a local convenience store just before the last drawing. Even though they had three cashiers instead of the usual one or occasional two, the line went well back into the store. I had no idea what was happening, but the man in front of me in line explained the Powerball jackpot stood at $949 million. He predicted that if there wasn’t a winner, the lines would wind around the store and out into the parking lot. I hope he isn’t correct, but last week there wasn’t a winner.

Now the prize will be approximately $1.3 billion. That’s 1,300 million dollars, or 1,300,000 thousand dollars. I understand a million dollars, but in all honesty the concept of a billion dollars escapes me. Now let’s see, that might just be enough to buy one of the lesser NFL franchises, like the Jacksonville Jaguars, and still have enough money left over to pay the players their million dollar salaries.

Voltaire termed the lottery a tax on stupidity. Jefferson called it a tax on the willing. Some days I think the lottery a silly waste of money. Some days I think it a sad waste of money.

The odds of picking the correct numbers are 1 in 292 million! This is such an absurdly large number that most people have no idea what it means. It would be easier to pick the winners of every single basketball game in the national college tournament than pick the numbers in the Powerball Lottery. The odds of being bitten by a shark are 1 in 3,748,067. The odds of being struck by lightning once in a lifetime are 1 in 3,000. I actually know a lady who was struck by lightning, but I don’t know anyone who was bitten by a shark.

Back when I lived in Maryland, I would buy a lottery ticket every now and then when the prize became ridiculously large. I have actually won the lottery twice. Once I won $3 playing the Powerball Lottery. Since I purchased the ticket in another state, I couldn’t cash it locally. Therefore I mailed it with my blessings to a resident of that state. I once found a discarded scratch off ticket in a convenience store parking lot. I won $2!

Picking up tickets in parking lots is probably the best way to play the lottery.

I haven’t bought any lottery tickets since moving to South Carolina. I am not sure why. Even when the prizes have been ridiculously large, it just didn’t feel right. Perhaps the difference has something to do with median household incomes. In the town where I lived in Maryland that number was $135,575 per year. The folks who bought lottery tickets, bought them one or two at a time. In my town in South Carolina, the median household income is $51,087. I see people who don’t look like they can afford it buying ten or more tickets at a time.

In Maryland most of the state sales of lottery tickets occurred in the poor neighborhoods of cities like Baltimore. A report in the Atlantic notes that half the lottery tickets sold in our country are sold to the poorest third of our citizens.

Even a few of my coworkers at the laboratory habitually spent more on the lottery than could be explained by an occasional desire for a little entertainment. I noted that those who purchased lottery tickets on a regular basis faced what they perceived as overwhelmingly difficult personal problems. They just didn’t believe they could escape their sorrows without the intervention of fate or the Divinity through the mechanism of the lottery.

The lottery, I fear, is neither a tax on stupidity nor a tax on the willing, but a tax on despair.

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