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Do you buy lottery tickets?

I don’t often buy lottery tickets, but every now and then when the jackpot gets high enough that people are talking about it, I get swept up in lottery fever. What I like about it is that for $2 I get to fantasize about being rich and generous, with some possibility of it coming true.

There are certain lottery realities that seem patently unfair, however. First of all, the odds are ridiculous. Your likelihood of winning the US Powerball is one in 80,089,128 – and that’s if you buy a ticket. My most recent purchase was a Lotto 649 ticket: I have a much better chance of winning that one: one in 13,983,816.

I suppose we all know the odds are not in our favour, and we accept that. It’s about luck, fate and destiny, not about math, right? So screw the odds.

But what about this? On August 12th, the Lotto 649 jackpot was about 42 million dollars. I checked my ticket and didn’t even get a single number. But what if I had checked my ticket and realized I’d gotten five of the six numbers right? I think I would have expected to be moderately rich. Imagine my disappointment upon learning I’d only won $5,173. How can first prize be 42 million and second prize be five thousand? That’s just not right.

I wonder why so many of us only buy tickets when the jackpot is huge. Does it make any sense from a statistical perspective? The more people who play, the more chance there is that if you do win you’ll have to split the jackpot with other winners, which will bring your loot down to a normal size win anyway. (On August 12, four people got all six of the winning numbers, and shared the jackpot: that’s $10,805,586 each.)

What about all those people living in poverty who spend precious money on lottery tickets? There seems to be a bit of collective moral indignation about such stupidity and wastage on the part of the poor. On the flip side of that:

New York Times, 16 July, 1996, A 16
John P. Rach (letter to the editor)

To the Editor:
Your July 14 Week in Review article on lottery advertising repeats stereotypes about lottery players’ being poor and uneducated and swept up into a gambling addiction. No doubt many are. But Gov. George E. Pataki’s statement that “it has always bothered me to hold up the prospect of instant riches” could also be recast as, “I want to take away the only prospect poor people have of getting out of their rut.” …more

This is indeed an interesting point. Poverty is a lot like quicksand. It’s extremely difficult to turn your fortunes around when you’re mired in poverty. At some point perhaps you realize there’s no way out except through the miracle of extremely good luck. For $2, you stand a chance – a very, very slim chance, but a chance nonetheless – of getting free. You can afford to buy yourself a tiny bit of hope.

We all have our own little dreams that rise to the surface when we buy a ticket. (I look forward to a different caliber of house-hunting when I win the lottery…I can start looking at houses I might actually like to live in. And a cottage, I want a cottage. I have some ideas on how to share my good fortune too.)

So…do you buy lottery tickets? Do you have a strategy or a philosophy? Will you retire when you win? What’s the first thing you will buy?

8 comments to Do you buy lottery tickets?

  • kat

    I don’t buy lottery tickets. It saddens me when I see people, who can’t afford them, buy them instead of food or other essentials. The scratch cards are worse than the lottery tickets and I have seen young children with them. In answer to your last two questions – Obviously, I will never win the lottery so I don’t need to worry about what I would do with the money :-) Best of luck to all those who buy the tickets but I can’t bring myself to participate. The prize money is far too high and therefore seems obscene.

  • Dakota

    I don’t buy them either, but I used to buy them. I never won any big prizes; the largest sum I’ve ever won was 25 euros…….hooray 😉
    Nowadays I only play when I get tickets for free (some stores give away tickets when they are promoting new products). I’ve got one now, so who knows….. I might be a millionaire next month (wishful thinking). Not sure what I would do with the money though…… maybe I’ll buy a new digital camera :) Start small etc…..

  • I’m in the fortunate position of being able to win without buying a ticket.

    My mother buys weekly and assures me that if she wins $10 million, she’ll give me $1 million.

    If she wins less than that, she’ll probably be able to spare me a bit, she says, but not necessarily 10%.

  • I buy tickets on a very occassional whim. In most cases, the ticket will sit in my wallet for many weeks before I get around to checking the numbers.

    My partner often comments that we should buy charity lottery tickets, like the one for the Heart & Stroke foundation, etc. At least with these lotteries you’re odds of winning something at least the value of the ticket ($100 a pop) are typically very good – 1 in 250 / 1 in 500. The prizes aren’t usually over a million, but they include houses, cars, etc.

    If I won a large lottery I’d create a circle of wealth with friends and family. That’s the 1-2% of the population that holds onto most of the worlds wealth. Then someday in the future and with a lot less luck than it took to win the initial lottery, we’d all be gazillionaires.

    Once we got into that position we could spend our money on tickets to really fancy events where the rich, famous, and over-powerful people go to play.

    My only requirement of those that were invited into the circle of wealth is that they pick one really annoying person at each event to splatter a banana-cream pie on. I’ve already chosen Stephen Harper – so nobody else can splatter him.

  • All the people who say they never buy lottery tickets remind me of the people who say they don’t watch television. I’ve been buying tickets regularly for over 20 years and the most I’ve won so far has been $100. It’s my weekly entertainment to think about how I would spend, or should I say “use” the money if I win. I have a list of people (very close to my Christmas card list in content) of people to whom I will give a share of the winnings. How much will depend on how much I win of course. I want to keep enough so that I can invest it and live off the proceeds so I don’t have to be dependent on working for someone else for a living. Anything left over after that goal is met is gravy. So friends and family get some and some of my favourite charities will win and maybe I’ll buy a car – or not. Mostly, I think I’ll travel and write.
    (Throughout I have said “I” but it’s really “we” because my husband thinks likewise.)

  • I do buy lottery tickets and I often win the lottery!! Buy more and more lottery tickets and win amazing prizes!!

  • Hi,

    Interesting article. I don’t think playing the lottery has to be stupid. This view leaves out the value we get from the benefit of anticipation, which can be real pleasure as well. The question is: is the value of anticipation greater than the “cost of disappointment” (from not winning) and the “value of money to play in lottery” combined?

    I recently had a more detailed look at it: Are lottery players stupid?