The Lottery Delusion

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We read yesterday about a delusion I’d never heard of before. Deluded person believes she is predestined to win the lottery–so out she goes on a spending spree, bankrupts herself… and then, as anyone could have predicted, doesn’t win the lottery. Surprise, surprise–her luck couldn’t overcome odds of several million to one.

“Oh! But the lottery gives hope!” Uh-huh. “All you need is a dollar and a dream.”

The “hope” of acquiring fabulous wealth without having to do anything to earn it–that’s not morally constructive. But there are those who don’t understand such words.

At our local supermarket you can buy $30 scratch-off tickets.

If I could, I would get rid of the lottery. It’s a tax on credulity. People don’t understand that, with the odds given, any prospect of winning approaches zero. “Yeah, but someone always wins! Always! So why not me!” Someone wins–out of how many hundred million tickets bought?

Yeah, but it’s something for nothing!

I’d get rid of it tomorrow, if I could.

6 comments on “The Lottery Delusion

  1. As part of my career in high tech, I used to have occasion to spend considerable amounts of time working on the point-of-sale and credit card systems in convenience stores. If you are in a convenience store for a number of hours, you might witness an interesting phenomenon; which is to see a person, frequently disheveled in appearance, buy a number of scratch tickets, then race back to their car to scratch off the coating. They would race back into the store and buy another batch, and especially so if they had “won” $5 or so in the last batch. (It wasn’t much of a win, because the last batch had cost $20.)

    Observing someone in this state was quite similar to watching an alcoholic whom had run out of money and would be willing to sell the clothes off their back in order to finance another drink. It was a fixation, fueled by the hope that the next batch of tickets would pay off and grant them escape from the shackles of their present life. In reality, they were squandering the money which might have been productively used and actually could have improved their lot, albeit modestly.

    What amazed me most about this was the fact that the people spending the most money also seemed to be the people most in need. They were usually not well dressed and the car they sat it while they scratched their tickets was usually barely functional. They were spending a lot more money than I could have afforded, buying a license to dream of a better future, but the dream didn’t come true, and likely never would.

    Even people whom win the lottery usually do not end up as well-off as they had hoped. It’s common for them to be back to poverty within a couple of years. Many people do not understand that expensive purchases require expensive upkeep, so a Mc Mansion and a Mercedes can bleed you dry, even if you have an annuity from the lottery. Lottery winners are frequently the targets of hucksters and unscrupulous people trying to cash in on the ignorance an inexperience of the lottery winner.

    I knew a fellow that won over $10,000,000 in a lottery, back in the early ‘90s. The thing is, he was already wealthy when he won it and knew what to do. He told me that a lawyer tried to bilk him of $10,000 for just a few hours of work, but he refused to pay such an exorbitant fee and offered to take it up with the Bar. The lawyer relented. But an inexperienced person probably wouldn’t have known to do that. At the end of the day, this fellow that won over Ten Mill’ ended up treating himself to the purchase of (are you ready?) a used Jeep.

    That was it, a Jeep worth possibly $8,000 – $10,000 was his only personal indulgence for winning the lottery. The rest went into making his future more secure and I’d wager that he enjoys the fruits of his winnings to this day, some 26+ years hence. But he is the rare exception.

    The other thing I truly disdain about the lottery, is that the winnings most likely came from the pockets of people who could least afford it. For every big lottery winner, there are millions of lottery losers and many of them are poor people, squandering good money for a long shot at a dream.

  2. Yes, Unknowable has said it all, so I’ll just add an old Jewish joke about the lottery. You can drag this out forever, but I’ll give a condensed version:

    Every week, Sam begs and pleads with God: “Lord, please let me win the lottery. Just once, Lord, to help my family. I’ll give half to charity. But please, please, please, let me win the lottery.”

    This goes on week after week. Finally, a voice comes from Heaven:
    “Sam, meet Me halfway — buy a ticket.”

  3. The Mega Millions is rigged. You can buy every combination possible which will guarantee you will win. This tactic will only cost you 600 million dollars. With the jackpot at $1.6 billion this is a great deal on the surface until one considers the winner after taxes only gets about 900 million, and if there are other winners it has to be divided up with them and so you lose. The State Lottery in Oklahoma was shut down after someone hacked into the system and stole all the money.

    1. In some other country, years ago, I forget which, a small group of, um, “wealthy investors” brought up all the lottery tickets so they could win.

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