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Sunday, February 19, 2012

Winning the Lottery: The Dream of the Big Win

Why bother to play when the odds are so stacked against you?

Looking at the odds of actually winning the lottery, many people simply say, "Why bother?" But unlike gambling in say, a casino, the amount of money one actually would spend just playing the lottery for a lifetime, for a chance at a huge and life changing payout, is really just pennies on the dollar.

Who wants to win?

The real question may be, who doesn't?

There are very few people I've run into in life who wouldn't want a chance at winning it big in the lottery. All things considered, the fact that nearly every state has at least one lottery, and all lotteries rake in billions of dollars each and every year, you can quickly assume that quite a lot of people play. Where else could one spend just one dollar and have the potential to forever alter one's life? And honestly, who could pass an opportunity like that up? It's of course the dream of the big win that draws us into playing as we envision days spent on mile-long yachts, enjoying what most would call the 'good life,' fat Cuban cigars jutting from our mouths, blowing smoke dollar signs instead of the more familiar 'O's.' If we could just win the lottery, we'd be able to go anywhere we wanted to, do just about anything, and buy whatever our heart's desired without so much as a second glance at a price tag.

Granted, when we think of what is the American dream, winning the lottery surely doesn't top the list. Probably because of the odds. And certainly there are many more sure-fire ways to hit it big—starting a successful business for example, or making a stock pick the likes of IBM or Microsoft, or Google for that matter. But certainly at least thinking about a big lottery payout is on the list.

And certainly the choices of which ones to play abound. Like I said, nearly every state has at least one lottery game, and most states have multiple ways to play. And of course many states participate in the multi-state lotteries like the Powerball and Mega-Millions, which by the way also offer the biggest payouts. The Powerball infact recently upped the ante when it changed to the $2 ticket, and the pot grows much more quickly now when someone doesn't win. If Powerball has a long run without a payout, the jackpot amount could certainly shatter any records set by any lottery before, so it will be something interesting to watch.

It's such a simple idea

That is, despite the odds of course. I'll readily admit that the odds are horribly stacked against you. The likelihood that any one of us reading this right now will ever be among the winner's circle when it comes to a big lottery payout is slim to none. But it is a very simple concept. Shell out a mere buck for a chance, however slim that chance, at raking in enough money to forever change one's life. I said before, you'd likely have a better chance at starting a successful business, or picking a great stock that takes off like gangbusters—still, doing these things takes quite a lot more money to do it. Even if you did get lucky, for example, and bought into Google right after its initial public offering, and held on to it through its stellar rise in value, unless you plunked down a sizeable chunk of money, and were willing to wait it out for a long period of time, you probably would have made a nice return. But even that may not have launched you smack-dab into the league of millionaires.

When you play the lottery you have to forget about how bad the odds are. It's as simple as that. You should have the same rule when you play the lottery as when you walk into a casino. Not a single casino has ever been built on winners, and the most likely scenario is that when you walk out of the casino, your wallet will be lighter than it was when you walked into it. When you play the lottery, you are probably going to wind up at least forfeiting your dollar.

So, what do you really have to lose?

I said before that there have been very few people I've run into who wouldn't want a chance at winning it big in the lottery. And while it is true that many people do play, a lot of people do not. How many times have I heard someone tell me, "You're wasting your time and your money. You'll never win." Of course, the people that tell me this are right. I probably won't. Still, even considering the improbability of the odds is $1, or even $2 to play the new Powerball, really all that high a price to pay for just the chance? Powerball starts off at $40 million. And lotteries have reached amounts as high as $300 million. That's no small change to say the least.

So, what do you really have to lose? I say practically nothing. Consider for a moment that even if you never won a single red cent playing any of the lotteries—not even a single dollar—over the course of a lifetime of playing, the actual amount you'd lose would be insignificant at best.

Let's say that a lifetime of playing the lottery is 50 years. I mean, let's say you play the lottery week after week, religiously, for the sum of 50 years and you never win so much as a dime. Hey, admittedly that's probably more possible than winning the big one. For those of you who don't ever play the lottery, lotteries typically have two drawings per week. For Powerball those drawings are held every Wednesday and Saturday. For Mega-Millions it's every Tuesday and Friday. My own state's lottery holds its drawings on the same schedule as the Powerball. So basically, the cost of playing religiously week after week would only be $2 or $4 depending on which one you are playing. When you do the math that's 2,600 weeks in 50 years, or anywhere from $5,200-$10,400 in a lifetime of playing the off-chance that you might actually win the big one.

Gosh, these really are some terrible odds

It's sort of funny when you really break down the odds. Flipping to the other side of my Powerball ticket, one of the older ones before the $2 change in price, it told me that my odds of winning the big lottery payout was 1 in 195,249,054. Doing a little research, I learned that I have a much better chance of being struck by lightining TWICE in my lifetime. My odds of having that happen to me is 1 in 9million. Putting it into further context, this means I'd more likely be struck by lightning 43 times than win the lottery jackpot once in my lifetime.

Let's hope the former doesn't happen. Winning the lottery sure sounds like a lot more fun than being struck by lightning even once, and truth is, I have absolutely no interest whatsoever on experiencing the equivalent effects of global warming all by myself anytime soon. Of course, if I were to be struck 43 times in my lifetime, which chances are better than winning the lottery, I certainly would become a bit of a scientific phenomenon, and that could likely payoff pretty good as well—assuming I could survive that many strikes...


What I say is this. Being ever realistic you probably will never get the big lottery payout. But isn't it still worth the $2 or $4 a week to at least have the chance? Again, and I hate to sound like a dead horse, without question it's probably a total waste of money. But I can think of a gazillion other things most people waste their money on, in far greater number, than what they'd waste on the off-chance of winning the lottery. Somebody has to be that 1 in 195 million. That's the way it works. And it can only be you if you have a ticket in your hand. For that reason I'll gladly waste my money.

If nothing else, I can of course stay indoors during an electrical storm.

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