Thursday, July 10, 2008

Playing to Win...Or Not

I've never purchased a lottery ticket.

Even when the jackpot has gotten up over $300 million dollars, I could not convince myself to spend the a dollar on a lottery ticket. I've often dreamed about how I would spend lottery winnings; the houses I would buy, the debts I would eliminate, but I would never purchase a ticket.

I'm pretty pleased about that decision after reading this story.

According to that story, the state lotteries in New Jersey and Florida have been selling folks scratch off tickets that have absolutely no shot of winning the grand prize. In fact, in one instance, the Florida lottery was still selling tickets for a contest a MONTH after the grand prize had been won. The story doesn't say if the practice is common in other states, but I'm pretty sure it is.

Understandably, people are pissed and some of them want to sue.

Of course, the lottery folks are claiming that they always provide an explanation of the prize to customers so there should not be a misunderstanding. That's a big, steaming pile of cow pie.

If lottery officials actually told customers outright that there was no shot they could win the big jackpot because that jackpot had already been awarded, nobody would purchase lottery tickets. Americans may be dumb, but we ain't stupid.

I've never enjoyed gambling, but I understand that some folks get a thrill from it. The idea that you can win $300 million just by spending $1 on a lottery ticket is very enticing. So, I don't look down on folks who gamble and I feel their pain at being duped.

This is a clear example of a corporation, one with ties to most state governments, selling the public inferior goods with the hope of making a quick buck. If the practice was perfectly legitimate, you wouldn't have seen lottery officials scrambling to change their rules once the news got out. They would have stood by their "fair" product and dealt with the fallout.

However, while I find lottery corporation's decision wrong, there is another part of me that finds the whole situation humorous. Although I try not to judge, there is still a part of me that finds gambling behavior to be stupid and counterproductive. I also understand the lottery corporation's argument that since the second, third and fourth place prizes were still available, folks weren't getting cheated completely.

After all, when most people purchase a lottery ticket, I assume that they don't really expect to win. They have to be aware of the outrageous odds against them. So, in a sense, they've already resigned themselves to the idea that they are spending money without a credible chance of getting anything. Logically, the fact that there is absolutely no chance for them to win shouldn't be a big deal.

Ah, that would only be true if humans weren't human.

No matter the odds, most humans still believe in their unique luck. It's why some of us never buckle our seat belts, don't use condoms and play the lottery. We're certain that we are different, that we are special and that the regular rules of probability don't apply to us. It's foolish and often dangerous.

But, it's human.

(Yep, a whole post with no mention of the dreaded "R" word. I know some of y'all didn't think I could do it.)


Alex said...

Second you on that condom comment. With nearly everyone having an STD, even sex with a condom is a gamble now.

OG, The Original Glamazon said...

Wow! The lottery is BIG here I see people in our corp convenience store buying 10-20 dollars worth.

I'm like you I really don't see the appeal.


WNG said...

Whenever it goes over 150 or so there's a group of us that get together and pool our money and buy numbers together. I don't do it because I think I'll win, I do it because it's fun. It's something to think about and secretly look forward to for two days, how we're going to be super rich and laugh in our boss' face as we walk out the door. But no, none of us really believes in it.
Scratch tickets are different. Most people think that the odds of winning the scratch tickets are much better so they really do expect to win something (even if it's only $5) and possibly the main prize. Also, at least in VA, the people buying scratch tickets are disproportionately poor so I suspect no one was too worried about them being duped. They usually aren't.

Big Man said...


I agree with you about the difference between scratch-offs and the Powerball tickets. That's why this was even more troubling because it involved the scratch-off tickets which some people play everyday like old folks used to play the numbers.

Do y'all know how difficult it was for me to proceed with posting this piece after Jesse Jackson went crazy yesterday? But, I told myself I need a few days to think about what Jesse did before I commit anything to paper.

WNG said...

I only have one question for Jesse: What the F**K were you doing on Faux News???
Other than that I just think the old guard is a little pissed that a young guy is getting what they worked their whole lives for and so this kind of thing leaks out. I don't really think it's that big a story.

Sorry - you wanted to ponder before you posted... just pretend I didn't type any of that ;-)
oh and CEO got all het up over a comment made about you on my blog yesterday!

Temple3 said...

The lottery dollars will not be used to pad state coffers. The dollars will go to educate our poorest students in our neediest schools.

Honest! I really, really, really mean it. Would I lie?

"What 'R' word?"

Renee said...

Lotteries and gambling in general are basically a tax upon those who can least afford it. They are simply predatory in nature when you think of the odds of winning. Aren't workers exploited enough on a daily basis? Now they have shows like lives of the lottery winners to promote this thievery.

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