I didn’t win the $1.6 billion Powerball lottery last January. But then neither did you.
As the man says, “You can’t win if you don’t buy a ticket,” which you couldn’t do in Texas. Would I have bought one if Texas had been part of the hoopla? Not if I had to stand in a line.
But lots of Texans poured over the border along with Canadians and Mexicans to a state that was selling. It’s true if you panned the crowd who waited long hours for their $2 quick fix of hope, that it didn’t look as if they were people training for their next marathon, or on break from running their new startup company. The crowd looked like an overweight version of a Depression-era bread line.
Isn’t it a little sad that people are so frustrated with the lack of purposeful labor or feeling so broke that this seemed like as good a way to spend time as any? Why would people pile on when the greater the jackpot the longer the odds? Why not buy a ticket for a better chance in a smaller local lottery? Greed. It was just so MUCH money.
It was impossible to ignore the pot with the national news making it a lead story night after night. All that money might have cured a disease, built an innovative school district, done immeasurable more good than watching some grinning folks going “woo woo” in front of TV cameras with a winning number.
Our Uncle Sam tax dollars are for those big issues like infrastructure and disease, and just look at what a great job our government has done there. About as good a job as the lottery winners who plunder through their wealth. You can’t be any more wasteful than the government.
Truth be told I have bought local lottery tickets as stocking stuffers, insertions into birthday cards, and occasionally while on the road at small towns which I thought might be favored by the lottery gods. So what if I have a one in 10 million chance of winning about that much money, well, less after taxes in the state lottery? “$1 Texas Lotto computer pick, cash option” rolls off my tongue at a convenience store with the facility that “triple skim wet capppucino” does from some folks at Starbucks.
It’s a harmless vice, a quick hit of pleasure sort of like a bite of chocolate: evanescent and kind of fun. It’s what one friend of mine calls, “a tax on the stupid.”
I like to think I’m not that stupid. Until I was stuck for three, count ‘em three hours, in a pileup on Interstate 10 in South Louisiana in a rainstorm last week. It was the kind of storm where I had to get out of my car after the second hour to find a nice couple with an RV who would let me in to use their facilities. The sheer monotony had me fantasizing about owning my own personal jet so I would never have to sit in traffic again.
That’s why people buy lottery tickets. Fantasy and hope.
With no effort I could pay off the car and the house, create trusts for my grandchildren, take some trips, buy some cool stuff, not have to take guff off of so many people, forget about overcharges on my credit card, worry less, and play more. I could have that dream for a day or two for only a dollar.
As soon as I got to a real restroom in Lafayette, I bought two Powerball tickets. (A measley $75 million jackpot then.) After the government took its cut, it would have been only about $30 mil, not even enough for naming rights on an important building. Still it was a better pot than the Texas lotto, but with longer odds. But hey, it was Lucky Leap Year and starting to feel like spring.
Studies have shown most lottery winners within a few years have spent, been conned, or wasted all their earnings and are right back in the same shape they were when they bought the ticket. Winners will need to erect a barrier to protect themselves from friends, neighbors, relatives, sales people, advisors, philanthropies, politicos, hucksters, and thieves who will all want a piece of that pie.
They’ll have to make new friends since nobody they knew can run with the big dogs. Maybe they’ll start up a company that creates lots of jobs, or found an innovative school, fund an amazing research program, and change the world.
What do you give me on those odds? Two dollars anyone? Two dollars everyone? I’m open. And if I ever win the Powerball? Girl Scouts Honor I will be the exception to the profligate rule. I’ll need a bodyguard. And a pilot.
Len Bourland can be reached at email@example.com.