Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Hoping for a Lottery Pick

According to Reuters, 11 states earned more revenue from lotteries than they did from corporate income taxes in 2009.   Americans spend $50 billion on lotteries that year, and studies have shown that on average, households that make less than $12,400 a year spend 5 percent of their income on lotteries.  For those that consider lotteries to be the poor man’s tax, I would think that this might put a dent in the argument that the bottom of the income scale isn’t paying their fair share. 
I am fortunate not to include myself in the lowest of income brackets that benefit from a $0 federal income tax bill annually, but nonetheless, I do play the lottery now and then.  I belong to the class of individuals who only play when the jackpot makes it worthwhile.  I am a fair weather player.  Call me when the estimated jackpot hits 9 digits before the cost-benefit analysis demands that I take action.  A $1 chance at $200 million seems logical to me, although any sober review of the numbers exposes the illogic of participating.  The odds are long indeed, but I don’t play for the intellectual stimulation or in place of a regular 401(k) contribution.  I play for the emotional stimulation.

Admit it, you’ve all had the “If I Win the Powerball” fantasies.  They’re fun, and they can get you through the toughest of days in the cubicle or in rush hour traffic.  I know what I would do.  I’d get my haircut every week, at home, by a real professional.  I’d attend the championship game of every major sport at least once.  I would hire an acoustician to evaluate my home and design the perfect sound system.  I’d have a mud room – a really big one.  I’d eat more fresh vegetables (the hired help would purchase them fresh daily and prepare them – fresh veggies take too much time and effort now).  I’d have a closet filled with expensive composite hockey sticks.  Cherie and I would spend the summer in Hawaii drinking pina coladas while the kids enjoyed a Virginia military camp experience.  Now that’s what I call emotional stimulation.

Oh, yeah, I’d donate some, anonymously, of course.

Playing the lottery is not a losing game for me.  The time between the purchase of the ticket and the drawing of the numbers is a time of hope.  For me, who knows the true odds are against me, who has enough to feed my kids and put a roof over their heads, I carelessly bask in the glimmer of that hope for awhile.  As Andy Dufresne wrote to his friend, Red in The Shawshank Redemption, “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best thing, and no good thing ever dies.”  I believe that.

I do recognize that for the regular players, the ones would need to win, the relationship with hope may be somewhat more adversarial.  As Red said about hope in the same movie: “Hope? Let me tell you something, my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane.”

In 11 states in 2009, those seeking a few moments of hope put up more money than the government asked of the businesses in those states.  Hope built more roads, repaired more bridges, educated more kids.  Maybe Andy was right.  Hope is a good thing.  But does it have to come from those least able to contribute it?

If we had a national lottery, we might satisfy everyone.  The poor would have the hope of winning.  The liberals would have steady revenue.  The conservatives would have a market driven solution.  Me?  I would have dreams of a much larger mud room for the time between the purchase of the ticket and the drawing of the numbers.  That would be a good thing, maybe the best thing.

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