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I feel lucky. January 2, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood were passing through Virginia yesterday and stopped for gas and a bathroom break at a convenient Sunoco station. On the way to the bathroom, we passed several large lottery-related signs, including one that noted that the Sunoco station had sold a ticket worth 2.5 million dollars. We’ve never seen anything like that in our adopted home state of Pennsylvania, so we guess our local lottery vendors haven’t been that lucky. Maybe we’ll be the first.

The other thing our friend Ben noted was that Virginia appeared to be considerably more forthcoming about one’s chances of winning big than Pennsylvania. The two remaining signs on the Sunoco wall, advertising the biggest lottery games, Powerball and MegaMillions, actually gave the chances of winning on the bottom of the posters. Again, this is something I’ve never seen in scenic PA.

So, what are your chances of winning the jackpot in either game? According to the posters, 1 in 176 million. Needless to say, this doesn’t sound too promising. But it gets worse. To put it in perspective, our friend Ben went to the website of the U.S. Census Bureau, which maintains an up-to-the-minute population “clock” of the U.S. According to the Bureau, as of today, January 2, 2013, the population of the U.S. was precisely 315,099,094. Double 176 million and you get 334 million. Which basically means that you have about as much chance of winning the grand prize in the country’s two biggest lotteries as half the population of the U.S. The odds aren’t exactly in your favor.

Nonetheless, somebody has to win. And as our friend Ben has often remarked, the lottery is the cheapest form of hope. Where else can you spend a dollar and have a chance of waking a millionaire? Silence and I think it’s harmless fun—certainly a far better use of a dollar than buying a candy bar or soda—as long as you only spend a dollar (or two, for the two-dollar tickets).

Gambling on the lottery to free you from financial misfortune is like thinking that ordering a margarita at the local cantina will make you Jimmy Buffett, with his devoted fan following, Caribbean lifestyle and estimated $404 million fortune. (Our friend Ben recently read that he was the third-wealthiest living musician, ranking behind Paul McCartney and Bono but ahead of Elton John and Mick Jagger.) And that, if the first margarita didn’t quite do it, maybe if you ordered 50 you’d find yourself in Margaritaville.

At least if you ordered 50 margaritas, you’d find yourself with something to show for it (such as a colossal hangover or a massive bill from the emergency room, or possibly the mortuary). If you put on your flip-flops and Hawaiian shirt, cranked up “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere,” and confined yourself to a couple of margaritas, you’d probably enjoy yourself. At worst, you’d think that maybe something a little less sickly sweet might be even better next time. (I suggest a Paloma.) But if you buy 50 tickets for the same lottery game, all you’re doing is throwing away $50 to $100 without significantly improving your odds of winning.

One ticket? Why not. More than one? Save your money. In this economy, you’re going to need it.



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