Lotteries, as they say, are a tax on those who are bad a math. Many a person who has looked at the odds, found it is more likely that you'll be hit by an engine falling off a passing plane than winning it, and tittered along with the self assured that those who buy tickets might as well just light their money on fire.
Of course, more than a few skeptics are probably still looking at the current Mega Millions lottery and thinking about making a bad investment; the jackpot is up to $500,000,000.00. As in half a billion dollars.
Not a bad bet for stake you could find in your couch cushions.
You don't get all of that, of course. Depending on if you take it as an annuity or as a lump sum, taxes will get somewhere between a half and two thirds. Still, a potential 175 million dollars or so deposited into your bank account next week will make a few people risk a little.
The thing is, however, someone is going to win it eventually. The lottery isn't a safe bet. I personally have to approach it as a high yield, high risk, short term investment. I recognize that if I put what I spend annually into tickets into my bills, I'd likely have one of my credit cards paid off within days.
But when I go to the counter or the machine and get those 6 numbers, I'm not just buying a chance to get my hands on a lot of cash. I'm buying hope.
The lottery is the happy thought for a lot of working people. Very little effort, huge reward. I'm not just talking about the lazy and deluded who think of the lottery as a retirement strategy and have no real plan B. I'm talking about people who work every day, who save for their kids college fund, who pay their bills on time. I'm talking about people who look at money as peace of mind, as the means to make sure the car gets repaired on time and they don't have to spend the last few days of the pay period making sure they've got enough to cover dinner.
As a friend of mine said to me, the lower class looks at money as survival and the upper class see it as leverage. The middle class see it as security, a way to make sure that eventualities are covered. And when someone like that looks at the millions of dollars in a pot, waiting for someone to get lucky, they're usual first thought is something like, "I'd pay off the house."
Sure, people are going to go nuts. If you've got more money than some small nations, you should go a little nuts. I know that if I won, there would be a trip to Key West in the very near future and that the next Sci-Fi convention I went to would be a pretty epic experience. A number of people who've won the lottery have gone a little too nuts and taken enough money to support them and their families out to two generations and blown it in a year on things both stupid and extravagant.
But I think a lot of people aren't just looking at it as a way to make their wildest fantasies come true. They're looking at it as a way to stop worrying. To know that whatever comes, that money thing is covered.
One morning, on my way to my office job, I had a couple of lottery tickets in my pocket. My train station went by a billboard that displayed the current amount. The day before, the total had been 8 million. It dropped down to to 2. Someone had won, and I was sure it was me. It was the most relaxing subway ride I've ever had, from that point on.
I didn't win, sadly. But I remember that feeling. And that's what I'm looking to buy in the next couple of days, when some lucky bastard(s) will find out what it's like to win the largest Mega Millions jackpot in history.
That... and the opportunity to buy one of those water powered jet packs. You gotta admit, that'd be sweet!