Okay, it seemed like a reasonable gambit. Ordinarily I’d suggest my parents blow the entire paycheque on booze. I thought the idea of leveraging the money via the lottery was really quite clever.
But my parents ignored me!
I thought they were being dickheads again, campaigning against my happiness.
Like most people, they buy the occasional lottery ticket. Why shouldn’t they buy more lottery tickets, then? Imagine: we could multiply our Lotto 6/49 chances by 10 or even a hundred, and then we’d be awash in booze. The booze of winners!
The Lotto Max jackpot is currently at $20 million—enough for the kickass bar of our dreams…the sort of bar the kids could brag about to their friends at elementary.
When I asked my mum about it, she said she feels like an idiot when she buys a lottery ticket. The only thing that allows her to do it is the knowledge that millions of other Canadians are doing the exact same thing without feeling like idiots. Just for a moment that $5 or even $10 seems like small change beside the chance at new cars, new clothes, new furniture, massive televisions, killer sound systems, whiter teeth, Botox, vacations, cruises—you name it.
Oh yeah, and all the philanthropy they could engage in! We mustn’t forget that, because wasting your money on a lottery ticket involves digging for justifications, the biggest of which is that you deserve to win.
But can you win? I decided to school myself a bit.
The average North American spends $1000 per year on lottery tickets and recoups a thirtieth, at best, of that with minor wins. Wow! That’s over $900 in spilt money. That’s ten very nice whiskies, 50 decent bottles of wine, or 40 cases of beer. OMG!
So maybe lottery tickets aren’t such a hot idea. Why do people buy them?
If you went to an investment advisor with $1000, you wouldn’t sink that money in a fund that promised to swallow your capital and give you $30-$40 back. Duh. But despite the statistical fact of abysmal returns, we continue to do this very thing at the lottery stand.
Canada’s most popular lottery, the 6/49, carries odds of almost 14 million to one. A toonie doesn’t seem like a big risk. One toonie twice a week=$208 per year, which is fine for anyone who doesn’t mind sacrificing five bottles of Belvedere and getting a mickey of Alberta Pure in return.
If only we were that restrained, though. And actually Canadians are a little more restrained than US citizens—we spend about $600 a year. Which still isn’t restrained—we’re not just spending a toonie on the 6/49; we’re also getting sucked in by scratch’n’wins and the astronomically long odds (28 million to one) of the Lotto Max.
Who’s doing all this buying? It isn’t everyone. Plenty of people walk past the stand without being tempted. Their $0 purchases contribute to the national average—which puts in perspective the lottery addict who spends ten minutes a time at the stand hand-selecting scratch tickets and boring the shit out of the clerk. The Lottery People are closely related to the People of Walmart; they have specific characteristics, not necessarily including visible ass crack but often involving body odor and decrepitude. They like to have rambling one-way conversations with captive listeners such as lottery stand attendants, and they are singularly oblivious of people in line behind them.
The Lottery People actually save us money sometimes. My mother, who already feels like an idiot whenever she buys a ticket, is too embarrassed to stand for more than a minute in the line-up and will bolt rather than be exposed for longer in the queue. While there, she looks furtively around. If someone chit-chats with her, she makes a point of snickering about her own silly purchase and calling it the Idiot Tax. If the kids are with her, she tells them lotteries are stupid and that we don’t do this very often. Yes, my mother has some inner conflict to work out, but she won’t be able to afford a psychologist if she continues buying lottery tickets.
Sadly, having less money often translates into buying more tickets. Statistically, lower-income earners hand over more cash for tickets, perhaps because lotteries seem like their only chance to attain wealth.
This represents a striking dichotomy between realism (slim chances of mobility) and utter unrealism (the odds of winning are substantially smaller than the odds of dying from necrotizing fasciitis).
Plenty of things are more likely than winning the lottery:
- Dying in a plane crash: one in 400,000
- Drowning: one in 88,000
- Being struck by lightning: one in 500,000
- Contracting herpes: one in 950
- Getting attacked by a bear in Yellowstone Park: one in 2 million
Wow, all those things suck!
So what should my parents buy instead of lottery tickets? Ahhh!
- Instead of playing 6/49 for a year: two bottles of Glenfarclas 17
- Instead of Lotto Max for a year: one bottle of Ardbeg 18
Between Glenfarclas for sure and wealth maybe, I’ll take the Glenfarclas.
After another nudge, my parents finally responded.
OMG! They really are opposed to my happiness.