Monday, January 14, 2008

I Dream of Millions

It all started with a dream on my birthday that I won the lottery. This was one of those horribly disappointing dreams where I thought to myself while dreaming, “I’m not dreaming this time. I’ve really won the lottery. My life is going to change significantly. Isn’t that right, Weird Al Yankovic?” I woke up before having a chance to pay off my student loans or ask Weird Al to be my swimming partner.

I’m usually a very practical person, but I’m also a gambler by nature (bad at math, don’t like to shower.) My girlfriend hates gambling. She ruins the fun of losing all my money by pointing out that I don’t have any money to lose in the first place, to which I say, “Well what’s the harm of losing more of nothing?” But even she couldn’t argue with a dream on my birthday. This was a sign from deep in my subconscious, an example of what scientists like to call ASLP or Advanced Subconscious Lottery Perception*. That and I didn’t tell her my plans until after I bought the tickets.

“I think I won $14!” I told Camille later that night, comparing my ticket to the winning numbers on the California Lottery website. I had hit three out of five numbers.
“Great. You’re up. Cash out.”
“Well, I spent $16 total, so I’m actually down. I think I’ll just buy more lottery tickets. Besides, I’m really in this to win $200,000 or more.”

And so began the vicious cycle. Every time I would try to quit buying tickets I would either win a free ticket or there would a huge jackpot the next day that I couldn’t miss out on. The Mega Millions prize one Tuesday was $163,000,000. And if I would win a free ticket, I would have to buy at least four more because what kind of idiot plays less than five tickets at a time?

Just looking at the math, you can see how ridiculous playing the lottery really is. In the Mega Millions the odds of simply hitting a mega number are 1 in 75. If you manage to somehow pull this off you are rewarded with $2. Now let’s look at the worst odds in Vegas, the roulette table. Say you take your dollar and put it on 4. The odds of that little steel ball rolling onto your number are 37 to 1, almost twice as good as hitting a mega number, and you win $35! To win $10 in the Mega Millions you would have to hit the mega ball, plus 2 numbers. The odds-- 1 in 844. To hit three numbers and the mega, the odds are 1 in 13,780 for a payout of $169. That’s right; going to Vegas is a much better investment for your money than playing the lottery.

Of course Vegas will never give you a chance at $163,000,000 for $1 either.

Someone once told me, “You know, people who win the lotto go broke within five years.” Well, I’m broke now. If I have to live life as an irresponsible millionaire for five years only to end up poor again, I’ll take it. If anything, the lottery gives us an excuse to dream about what it would be like to win millions of dollars. Who wants to even think about being rich while they toil away at their day jobs, knowing that no matter how hard they work it will be years before they even get close to making one million dollars? When you buy a lotto ticket, you have an actual, legitimate, 1-in-175,711,536 chance of winning big. And you don’t have to do anything except sit around and talk about the first thing you would do when you won. (I’d go to Vegas ironically enough.)

I quit playing on New Year’s after I saw a study in the New England Journal of Medicine questioning the veracity of Advanced Subconscious Lottery Perception* (and I had gone two weeks without even winning a free ticket.) My New Year’s resolution was to save money and stop dreaming of an easy way to get rich. I’ve decided to make money the hard way, by not blowing it.

* Okay, so I made ASLP up.