Disclaimer up front: Winning Wednesday night’s $1.5 billion Powerball lottery is a very, very, very long shot.
With odds greater than 1 in 292 million, someone is more likely to flip a coin 28 times in a row and have it come up heads each time. It’s easier to pick all the winners in the 64-team March Madness basketball tournament than to guess the correct six numbers in the Powerball lottery.
But that’s not the point. Intellectually, most of us understand that winning is astronomically unlikely, but let’s face it: If you buy a ticket, your chances are quite a lot better than if you don’t.
Given the high odds against winning, experts say, it really doesn’t make much of a difference whether you buy one ticket or 200, so save your money: You might as well just buy one $2 ticket to enjoy the excitement of being in on the nation’s biggest crapshoot.
Unfortunately, people who can least afford to spend a lot of money gambling on such lotteries are the ones most likely to. Many of them look at playing the lottery as an investment opportunity rather than entertainment, according to Cornell University economics and management professor David Just. He told NPR that for poorer people, the lottery is “their Hail Mary pass to try and make it big.”
Yes, lotteries do exploit lower-income folks. But lottery supporters say people who like to gamble would just find something else to gamble on if the lottery went away. So why not gamble on something that actually funds public services? In Washington, where the state lottery (which includes Powerball games) takes in more than $500 million a year, 60 percent is paid out to winners, but 20 percent goes toward higher education financial aid.
As long as a player isn’t spending the rent and grocery money, buying a $2 ticket is a small price to pay for a little fantasy. After all, most of the fun of these things is dreaming about how you’d spend the money.
Splurge on a luxury car (or cars; remember, as a multimillionaire you have to keep up appearances) and other pricey toys? Buy a mansion on Gravelly Lake? Set up trust funds for the kids and grandkids? Give a bunch of it to charity? Hey, do it all!
Here’s a tip experts suggest to avoid frittering it away, as some winners have done after taking a lump sum payout: Consider taking your jackpot in an annuity that pays out over 30 years. In this case, it means just under $16 million the first year (after federal taxes) and increasing to $65 million in the final year, according to www.usamega.com.
You could live on $16 million, right?