Did You Play the Mega Millions?
I would be lying if I told you that I didn't get a lottery ticket last week in hopes of winning the Mega Millions jackpot of a staggering $640 million. In fact, I bought several even though I knew I would lose; as the rest of you probably did.
Well, lose is a relative term . . . because I did end up winning $2! Guess my lucky number 23 comes in handy once in a while.
What Drives Us to Play?
There are individuals who play the lottery every week, no matter how big or small the jackpot is. Then there are times like this past week where people who normally wouldn't buy a lottery ticket (or 20) end up buying them. What is it about the lottery that drives us to play, even when we know the chances of winning are basically none?
When the prospect of winning the Mega Millions jackpot (which is normally only several million dollars) meant that you could win over half a billion dollars, America reached a feverish frenzy. By Friday morning, over 2 million tickets were being sold per hour in New York City alone; and hundreds of people were driving several hours to purchase a ticket, only to wait many more hours standing in line before they had a chance to get anything at all. It became very apparent that Americans had ceased any sort of rational thinking, and instead replaced it with clouded optimism and a mind busy with "what-if."
Now, we can talk about gambling and gambling addictions all day long . . . but is that what this is really about? In this case, I believe there are other factors at play (no pun intended).
One of the biggest reasons we all fell prey to the lottery bug is because we were all making plans for the money before we even won it. It quickly became a version of “fantasy play.” Among my friends, and even among other circles, I overheard conversations regarding what they would do should they win the lottery. New houses, new cars . . . one person even said they’d buy a zoo! Not to mention the jokes about how they can’t wait to quit their job.
The unfortunate part is that the general population has a hard enough time understanding statistics as it is, let alone when we have $640 million dollars potentially staring us in the face. This is why we have low-income households spending over 5% of their annual income on lottery tickets even if it means being unable to pay for bus fare that week . . . or worse, groceries.
Many try to justify their ticket purchases by saying things like "It's only a dollar . . . if I win, it will be the best investment I've ever made," or "There's no reason not to play." There’s no doubt the sagging economy has a strong influence on our current "investment decisions," and we all hope to be the ones miraculously saved from foreclosures and credit card debt and who achieve financial freedom.
The truth can be hard to swallow; the chances of winning the lottery this last week were 1 in 176 million. You have a better chance of getting struck by lightning, or getting eaten by a tiger and a shark on the same day (according to Tax.com). So even after knowing all of this, is it still worth it to play even just a dollar a week on the lottery?
I know that personally, I will keep playing as long as it is coming from extra income and not my food or rent money. If regulated, it can be a healthy way to take part in a social game that spans the entire country . . . perhaps even a way that we can feel “bought together” as a nation, in a way that is few and far between these days.
And even if you don't win, it certainly is nice to think about "what if," and makes for good conversation with otherwise complete strangers who have similar dreams.