On the lottery.

Today, my roommate mentioned that he forgot to buy a lottery ticket. Apparently the jackpot, which is approaching $300 million, is now big enough to warrant his attention.

Many people say that they’ll wait until the jackpot’s “big enough” before playing the lottery. Here’s what they mean, translated into economics: Multiply the lottery payout by the probability of winning, and add an amount that represents the “fun” of playing the lottery. If the result is greater than the cost of the lottery ticket, then playing the lottery would be economically rational. If not, then not.

There are other factors to consider: the probability of getting robbed in those few extra seconds you spend in the convenience store, the probability of getting in a wreck on the way to or from the store, the probability of a paper cut, the value of anything else you could have bought with the cash you spent on a ticket, and so forth. All things considered, your chances of winning the lottery are about the same if you do play as if you don’t play. But that won’t stop anyone from dreaming about those millions.

If I won, I’d pay off any mortgages and debt my family and friends might have. I’d have the ‘Rolla fixed up, maybe buy a new car. I’d buy one of my former coworkers a Wendy’s franchise, like I promised. I’d set up trust funds for my kids’ education, buy some land, and build my dream house. Most importantly, I’d use my winnings to set up charitable foundations dedicated to bringing health, help, and hope to small villages in underdeveloped countries throughout the world.

Ideally, one of those small villages would be near the remains of a large, ancient temple. I would have that temple restored to its original glory. I would then invite everyone I know to a feast in the Great Hall of the temple. The guests would have whatever meal their hearts desired: pheasant, lobster, filet mignon, soyburgers, anything. I would dine in a secure balcony overlooking the hall, alone so as not to show favor to any one particular guest… or should I say, contestant?

I would wait until everyone had finished eating and got back from the bathroom, because I wouldn’t want anyone to miss the evening’s entertainment. My minions would then secure the exits, and I would announce my true purpose in bringing friends and family to this place: to participate in the Tournament of Death. To heighten the tension, I’d first use the local translation of “tournament of death,” like “Torneo De La Muerte,” pause dramatically, and then actually say it in English.

There would be no escape. There would be no mercy. There would be no rules, save this: I would give half my winnings to the sole survivor of the contest.

The ones who were still staring at me, mouths agape, wondering if I was serious? They would be killed first, by contestants who were a little more perceptive and accepting of their circumstances. The ones who were principled, and wouldn’t give me the satisfaction of seeing them fight for their lives? They would be killed next, by contestants who were greedier or more committed to survival than idealism. The ones who quickly grasped the reality that no matter how low their odds of surviving were, they’d better take their chances and start killing? They would put on a display of carnage that would rival any witnessed by even the most depraved and bloodthirsty of the Roman Emperors.

After all but one of the combatants had been wiped out, I would congratulate the winner. I would then reveal that every meal served to the guests that night had been laced with a slow-acting poison which would be kicking in right about… now. The survivor would try to attack me, stumble to the ground and writhe in agony. I would bend down to the survivor, grab his head, and say, “You never should have trusted me, Grabowski”—or “Dad” or “Aunt Matilda” or whatever the winner’s name would be.

I would then activate the auto-destruct device my minions had installed as part of the renovation, and escape to some faraway land, thus ensuring that no one from my past life would ever interfere with my plans again.

But this is all wishful thinking, because a dollar spent on the lottery is almost always a dollar wasted. It’s better to work towards our dreams, rather than throw our money away like pennies in a shopping-mall fountain.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, February 28th, 2006 at 10:29 PM.

One Response to “On the lottery.”

  1. Vincent Viscariello Says:
    March 8th, 2006 at 3:33 PM

This is the type of carnage I had in mind:


Thanks to clarkkent for the heads up.