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This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things – Mega Lotteries

August 2, 2010

If you are located somewhere in or very near the United States, you probably live in or very near a place that has a State Lottery of some sort. It’s a chance to spend a small amount of your weekly pay packet on a wonderful dream of more and more riches, when there’s a day that you’ll be able to leave that nine to five up on the shelf, and just enjoy yourself.

There are various games available to play, for example there’s usually something called a “numbers” game, where they select a 3 digit number once (or in the case of New York twice) a day. And then there are the “Keno” style games, similar to the classic Vegas game and often referred to as “Lotto,” where you select several numbers from a field of numbers and the more you match, the more you win.

But the various state lotteries have been teaming up with each other to offer up insane sized jackpots for players. There are two really big games of this type available; one is called “Mega Millions,” and the other is called “Powerball.”

Chances are, you have the opportunity to play either one or both of these games at your local state lottery agent, but I want to explain just what these lotteries are doing with games like this, and how they are simply stealing money, hand over fist, from the people who play.
Let’s take our simple and humble numbers game to start. In New York, if you place a bet for one dollar on a number… for example, if you bet 711 “straight” and the number comes up 7-1-1, you win. The odds on you betting a number and having it come up exactly like you bet it are simply 1000 to 1. One thousand different numbers could come up, from 000 through 999. So on that one dollar bet, the chances that you’ll hit are 1 in 1000, and the lottery payout for a win of this sort is 500 dollars. So, the New York State Lottery is paying you half the odds on a straight bet in their numbers game.

Similarly, there is a variation of this numbers game that uses 4 digits. And in the case of the New York Lottery, just multiply everything by ten. If you bet, for example 1234 for one dollar, and that was the number drawn, you just beat 10,000 to 1 odds, and your prize is 5000 bucks in return.

But why settle for just 5K, when the lottery is offering up millions for that same dollar? Life Changing Money is at stake, and here’s where these games go all Bernie Madoff on your cash, with their “Mega” offerings.

Let’s start with the odds of winning. Both Powerball and Mega Millions have a 5 plus 1 configuration. They require you to select 5 digits from a field of 56 (in the Mega game) or 59 (in Powerball style). And then you have to pick another single digit from another totally separate field (1 from a field of 46 in the Mega; 1 from 39 in the Powerball).

The odds of you selecting all 5 of the numbers that are drawn in the first set AND the 1 number drawn from the second set are, for Mega Millions: 1 in 176,000,000 and for Powerball: 1 in 195,000,000. To repeat, the odds of winning the jackpot are one in 176 million for Mega, one in 195 million for Powerball.

But here’s the part that’s really crazy. The conglomerates at these Lottery Commissions start these huge jackpots at 12 million dollars for Mega and at 20 million dollars for Powerball. Where our three and four digit numbers games are giving you a somewhat fair 50 percent of the odds as a payback, these mega games, if you win the week after someone else drains the jackpot, are paying you about 75 million dollars too little! (Granted, the jackpots can increase to amounts equal to or even greater than the odds in these games, but we’ll examine that aspect in a moment.)

So, Rule Number One: if you must play one of these “Mega Jackpot” games, only play it if the pot is equal to or above 80 million dollars. Otherwise, even if you manage to win, you are a huge loser!

Next, a lot of people, when they see that the jackpot is larger, will throw more money at that game and buy five, ten, twenty, or fifty dollars worth of tickets, thinking that will increase their odds of winning. People think they are cutting into that “195 million” number if they spend 100 instead of 1. But, if you do the math the right way, you’ll see that spending 100 dollars only means you have bet the 1 into 195 mil odds, 100 times! You really haven’t significantly reduced your chance of winning at all, except that now you’re out 100 dollars, not just 1.

So, Rule Number Two: If you must play one of these “Mega Jackpot” games, just play one single dollar. If you’re going to beat 195 million to one odds, one ticket is enough and betting more really won’t help.

Next let’s look at where the lotteries really rip people off: the “lower tier” prizes, as they are described.

Obviously, with odds nearly at the two hundred million mark, you probably won’t win the jackpot. But there are prizes if you match the first 5 numbers or 4 with that bonus number on down the line to just matching that Mega Ball or Powerball on its own. And this is the biggest ripoff of all!

The odds of selecting the first 5 numbers drawn in one of these super lottery games is 1 in about 4 million. So, one might expect a payout of 2 million? 1 million at least? No. For the Mega game, you get a payment of 250,000 dollars, and for Powerball it’s only 200,000! So, again, if you win that amount, the lottery still is a winner, by paying you only one eighth of the odds!

If you matched 4 numbers and that bonus ball, the odds on doing that drop to about 1 in 700,000. But the payout also drops to 10,000. Again, the lottery is paying you a fraction of the amount you should have received based on the likelihood of you winning it. Even the Vegas casinos don’t abuse their patrons like this!

But to me, the biggest theft of all is at the bottom, if you managed to match only the bonus ball, where the odds are 49 to 1 against you doing it, the payout is 2 dollars, or a single dollar more than you bet!

Really, in this economy, who can toss money around? And if you could, you probably wouldn’t be buying lottery tickets! Still, the promise of a new day lures the players in, and they think that maybe this week might be their time. Your numbers have to come up, sooner or later!

Now, let’s look at this from the opposite direction and figure out how much money are these lotteries actually GAINING from the people playing them.

Here’s a payout chart of a recent and typical Powerball Lottery result:

NUMBERS: 20 30 38 46 59 + POWER BALL (27)
0 WINNERS OF $52,000,000 JACKPOT.


New York
Numbers Matched Prize
0 First 5 of 5 + Powerball $0.00
1 Second 5 of 5 $200,000.00
Winning Counties: Richmond(QP)
Retailer Locations:

0 Third 4 of 5 + Powerball $10,000.00
54 Fourth 4 of 5 $100.00
76 Fifth 3 of 5 + Powerball $100.00
3,289 Sixth 3 of 5 $7.00
1,507 Seventh 2 of 5 + Powerball $7.00
10,188 Eighth 1 of 5 + Powerball $4.00
22,303 Ninth Powerball Only $3.00

What information can we glean from this chart? First of all, this gives you an idea about how much money the lottery commissions will be paying out in the New York area, and a hint about other places. But let’s focus on New York here, and let’s presume each state will pay out similarly for their winners.

First, we see that nobody won the jackpot prize. We see that 2 people in the multitude of states won the second prize and one of those was in New York. Each of these tickets earned 200,000 dollars, but keep in mind, if the person doesn’t cash in the ticket before a year expires, that money goes right back to the state. There’s always a chance that the tickets won’t get cashed in, and really, we already know that every ticket will not be cashed. Someone lost it, or forgot to check, or it blew out a window, or people argued and tore it up or went into the sofa cushions or car seat… any number of things could have happened.

But let’s assume, just for this example, there were no mishaps and everyone remembers to bring their tickets in for cashing. So far, the Lottery has paid out 200,000 in New York State. And 54 people split 5400 bucks paid for the fourth prize there. Another 76 got 100 as well for the fifth prize so add in 7600 more, and on down the line.

So, adding up the total amount that New York State is paying out to the winners: $354,233.

That seems like a lot of money but keep in mind, every ticket that was a winner cost one dollar to buy, so let’s subtract a dollar for every winning ticket from this drawing, and that’s a total of 37,418. So the lottery paid out $316,815 dollars total for all winning tickets in New York State. The information we don’t have is the total number of tickets purchased. But we can guesstimate that amount. And here’s how.

We don’t want to overestimate the number of tickets sold, but if we take the number of people who won the biggest prize available in that week’s drawing and multiply that number by the odds of winning whatever prize that was, we have a pretty good idea of how many tickets were sold. After all, if one person beats the odds, that means, at least statistically, there were all of the people who didn’t, and that total will approach what the lottery commission sold on that draw.

So, looking at our example, we see that in New York State, 1 person beat the second place odds: that’s 3,904,701 to 1 odds. So that means that we’re very confident in saying that in New York, almost 4 million lottery tickets were sold for this drawing. Subtract the money the lottery had to pay out to its winners, and we’re talking about a 3.6 million dollar payday for the Lottery.

And keep in mind: they do these drawings 4 times a week.  Potentially they make somewhere near 14 mil a week, every week, on jackpots like this one. Nice work if you can get it! Yes, this is an average just based on odds, but it’s a pretty reasonable guess.

Now, the huge jackpots that occur when no one has won for several weeks need to be noted with an asterisk, because if no one has won, the lottery keeps more and more money from the draw. And the tendency is for more people to buy more tickets when the jackpot is larger, so the paydays will be even bigger for the lottery. What it boils down to is the lottery really isn’t “paying” any money of its own to winners. It’s all coming out of the ticket sales.  And when there is a massive jackpot like the record 390 million dollar one awarded in 2007, everyone throws a dollar at that chance. All the lottery is doing is redistributing the money we all have in a random way (while keeping a nice piece of it themselves)!

Another point: In days of yore, the lottery commissions here in NY and in other states made a big deal about how the funds raised “benefitted education” and that “a portion of the proceeds was going into the public school system.” They never really said how much that portion was, and what schools managed to secure those benefits, but nowadays, nobody talks about that element of the lottery at all. It seems as if the only people collecting are the federal and state government tax department and the Lottery Commission depositing money from losing tickets!

Finally, let’s look at those payouts to our jackpot winners. Let’s say you were lucky enough to win the big prize, and for your draw, it was a hundred million bucks! That’s actually a relatively fair amount for the odds. But hold on there, Hurley! Let’s say you decided to receive the amount as a “lump sum” payment, i.e. all of the money at once, instead of in 26 annual installments. There’s a penalty for that, roughly half the jackpot amount. So you get 50 million.

But that’s still a nice chunk of change, isn’t it? You wouldn’t complain about getting 50 mil, would you? Oh, but wait. You don’t get 50, since Uncle Sam needs to take a cut of the cash. So, you lose another 40 percent of the pot. And now you get 30 million. That’s pretty good too. Can’t complain about a solid 30M!

Oops! Just one more thing… At the end of the year, you have to file your taxes. And, the IRS already knows about you since you just happened to give twenty million bucks to them this year. It’s pointless to run and hide. You’ll have to pay taxes on the 30 mil you acquired. And let’s have the government be a bit generous and say you’ll only pay 30 percent on this amount. Now, you’re free and clear with $21,000,000. That’s totally yours to keep, to invest or spend wildly, to squirrel away in an offshore account in the Cayman Islands or to buy more lottery tickets during a week when the jackpot is bigger! And just think… it takes the Lottery, at most, maybe two weeks to get a similar payday: a payday that statistically, you’d only see as a player once every nine hundred thousand years.

23 Comments leave one →
  1. August 2, 2010 3:09 am

    Like sausage and laws, how the mega-lottery is “made” is definitely something I never want to know. That said, this is fascinating analysis of the mechanisms involved after I have stood behind yet another lotto hopeful who has held up the gas station line for several minutes playing their elderly relative’s hospital room number or birth date.

    And just think… it takes the Lottery, at most, maybe two weeks to get a similar payday: a payday that statistically, you’d only see as a player once every nine hundred thousand years.

    Ouch. I guess there is some truth to La Mommie’s oft repeated and snarky notion: odds are the same whether you play or not.

  2. Octavia permalink
    August 2, 2010 4:18 am

    Damn, a mega jackpot here is like $8 mill. You guys sure do things big. It’s a great licence to print money if you’ve got flexible morals.
    Love the maths and love lists and charts.

    @Snarky: I am remember this quote for future use, “Odds are the same whether you play or not”

    If I want to buy false hope I’ll get some diet pills shilled by the Kardashian sisters.

  3. badhedgehog permalink
    August 2, 2010 5:27 am

    Great comparison of income and payout.

    You know, every time I’m reminded that US lottery winners pay tax on their winnings, I’m surprised all over again. So much of the money, just *zip* ,gone.

    Winnings on the UK national lottery & Euromillions aren’t taxed, but tax is paid on the tickets. And the lottery operator, Camelot, takes a small profit. The money breakdown goes 50% to prize fund, 28% to good causes fund (a way of funding community health projects, sports and arts disproportionately out of poor people’s money), 12% to government in lottery tax, 5% to retailers as commission, 4.5% operating costs, 0.5% profit. 0.5% doesn’t sound like much, but when you consider it as 1% of the prize fund, and the prize fund is between 7 and 18 million pounds a week… they’re making £70k to £180k a week, or £6.5 million a year nice clear profit to a private company. Camelot was recently sold to the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan – so Canadian teachers had better hope the UK public keeps on buying those lotto tickets and scratchcards!

    (The lotto is match 6 from 49: odds are about 1 in 14 million to get all 6 numbers. It is a mug’s game. Being not entirely not a mug, I play it maybe 4 or 5 times a year. One time I matched 4 numbers, odds of 1 in 1032. I got £56.)

  4. August 2, 2010 6:31 am

    I think I won $2(USD)of a scratchcard someone gave me as a stocking stuffer. Also, this is probably the first piece written on the topic that didn’t demonize the populations targeted by Mega Lottery overlords. So much emphasis is placed on consumers with some problematic assumptions about race, gender and class, devoid of any analysis of why certain populations are “predisposed” to lotto playing in the first place. I definitely have to drive to specific neighborhoods and retail outlets to purchase lotto products. They don’t sell them everywhere, though that seems to have shifted a bit in the current economic downturn, which finds even the more affluent wishing on a star, so to speak.

    Add lotteries to the stable of predatory products (for profit colleges, Rent-a-Center/Sucker, Tax Refund Anticipation Loans, Pay Day Loans and Check Cashing establishments) marketed towards those who can afford them the least and whom are demonized the most for finding the savvy marketing efforts enticing.

  5. IrishUp permalink
    August 2, 2010 10:28 am

    Excellent breakdown!
    Using your numbers and assuming ~4mil ticket buyers, I notice that there were about 45000 of the lowest tiered payouts or about 1% of the tickets bought. HERE is where the Lotteries do their worst work: these payouts serve to establish an Intermittent Reward Schedule. Any behaviorist will tell you that this is quickest was to establish a behavior and keep it at the highest frequency an animal WILL do that behavior; because the reward is uncertain, but IS there at a low frequency, the animal maintains a high level of behavior to maximize hir chance at potential reward.

    A 1% reward rate reinforces 2 tickets per week which would (statistically speaking) ensure the player at least 1 prize per year. Or, put another way $104/year guarantees you a $3-7 prize. Nice profit margin.

  6. Octavia permalink
    August 2, 2010 11:06 am

    @Snarky: Definitely. The marketing tactics employed by the tertiary lending market and lotteries commissions are so similar they’re almost indistinguishable. I can’t speak for other countries but here they are two of the very few industries that market with images of Maori and Pacific people in a central rather than tokenised role, using lower-income-made-good imagery. Ditto casinos. Unsurprisingly Maori and Pacific peoples make up the majority of NZ’s poor.

    One of the most basic, smack-in-the-face obvious ways I’ve seen this is in targeted billboard placement. On one of my city’s main motorways, as you drive towards the more socio-economically disadvantaged areas the billboard images change from glamourous white people and higher status goods and services to people of colour positioned as being helped to gain basic modern needs by loan shark borrowing and lottery / other gambling winnings. “Thanks ‘Instant Finance’, you helped my family!” etc. I never see these ads in wealthy majority white areas.

    They are absolutely unashamedly predatory. And not a bug but a feature, especially when we have a prevailing message from those in positions of power that the poor – usually unsubtly coded for POC – ask too much and should be grateful for what they’ve got. (So should presumably look elsewhere for assistance or suck it up??) In such a system the successful sale of false hope shouldn’t be surprising to those so pearl clutching about the growth of these industries.

  7. badhedgehog permalink
    August 2, 2010 11:14 am

    Yeah, a lot of talk about consumers of scratchcards completely ignores the fact that if you’ve got bugger-all money, even the tiniest chance of enough money to not have to worry any more seems worth wishing on. Also especially prone to the fallacy of thinking that only other people (especially othered other people, naturally) are ever irrational.

    Over here, lottery tickets and scratchcards are sold in pretty much every grocery store and newsagents. Check cashing establishments, pawn shops and ads for payday loans are not so universal. TV ads for payday loans do crop up closer to primetime these days, what with the economic shitbath we’re all taking. (and didn’t that economic shitbath have a lot to do with predatory lending practices in the first bloody place?)

  8. August 2, 2010 1:46 pm

    Octavia and Badhedgehog, thank you for non UScentric perspectives. It’s been a long time since I was living overseas so it’s great to have a perspective of these industries outside their US framing.

    The NZ lotto industry is chilling. The way its described I can’t help but think of Once Were Warrior, which is one of the only movies I’ve ever seen as a USer that gave a voice to the struggles of marginalized folks in NZ, in a way that didn’t erase their agency. Omg, Jengo Fett was played by the same actor who played the father in Once Were Warrior. He’s a fantastic actor!

  9. August 2, 2010 4:26 pm

    And just think… it takes the Lottery, at most, maybe two weeks to get a similar payday: a payday that statistically, you’d only see as a player once every nine hundred thousand years.


    I also like that Dan Gilbert says statistically speaking, people who win the lottery and people who sustain a spinal cord injury are both the same amount of happy five years later as they were before they started.

  10. hsofia permalink
    August 2, 2010 9:51 pm

    One can buy lottery tickets basically at convenience stores and chain grocery outlets. Not at Whole Foods, though. I wonder why that is? You also can’t buy bus or concert tickets at Whole Foods.

    I once did a transcription of a focus group of people who played scratch it cards several times a week. The overwhelming consensus was that they played for fun, like a way of treating themselves. I really think of the lottery ticket as the poor or working class person’s Starbucks.

  11. August 2, 2010 10:09 pm

    Apparently retailers don’t want patrons mixing their fun with the serious business of organic produce.

  12. Octavia permalink
    August 3, 2010 5:48 am

    @Snarky: That’s Temuera Morrison, he’s a national treasure!
    I love that it is now a layer of Star Wars cannon for Concordians to have NZ accents (random factoid: there is a big NZ band called Concord Dawn). As an interesting aside, a lot of the criticism in NZ among sci-fi fans of Tem being Jango was that omg now Star Wars will be ‘ruined’ by Jango, Boba, and clone troopers having a ‘bad’ NZ accent. With ‘bad’ being that Tem has a particular type of NZ accent associated with Maori culture and low socio-economic status here. There is a big expectation of accent code switching for Maori and Pacific people here in order to be ‘taken seriously’. Tem doesn’t accent switch so a lot of white NZ has decided he’s ‘rough’ (and of course his ‘Once Were Warriors’ character must be what he is like…).

    Alan Duff’s books (‘Once Were Warriors’ and the sequel ‘What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?’) and the movies that followed were really ground-breaking here. As you say the refusal by those involved with the film to erase Maori agency and slip into the easy and familiar trope of bad Maori who need to fix their shit caused big waves. Another extremely popular and pretty groundbreaking animated TV series here was ‘Bro Town’ written by a Pacific comedy troupe (The Naked Samoans), centering the Pacific NZ experience and satirising racist expectations through humour. I hadn’t seen anything like that on mainstream NZ TV before.

    Two other writers I love are Patricia Grace and Witi Ihimaera. They’re very big voices in Maori NZ literature and, related to the accent / code switching expectations, they both write using language and sentence structure of Maori-English and use a lot of untranslated Maori. Much of their writing (particularly Witi Ihimaera’s) is unashamedly political too and doesn’t seek to make the reader comfortable. NZ being tiny, I was lucky enough to have him as a guest lecturer in a NZ literature paper I took at uni, it was amazing. His first book ‘Tangi’ (meaning funeral ceremony / lamentation) is one of those works where I still think of it, and I get shivers up my neck it’s so raw and amazing, you know?

    Hmm this is pretty long! Anyway to finish and bring my point back to the NZ lottery, tickets are available pretty much in every mainstream supermarket / bookstore, but it’s the marketing of it and other similar goods and services that is so economically / racially divided. I can buy a ticket if I wish in my local mainstream (but not gourmet / organic, ha) supermarket, but it’s not pushed to me. I’m not the target demographic. I could walk past the stand and not notice it. In South Auckland (high poverty, high Maori and Pacific population) this and other gambling is very actively marketed (and the tertiary lending market basically doesn’t bother advertising in white non-poverty areas).

  13. August 3, 2010 3:58 pm

    last week i was reminded me that i had a winning scratchoff ticket for $10 in my bag, and today I finally cashed it — I thought about cashing it in for ten megaball tickets, but thought of this post and instead used it to by myself lunch and an afternoon snack!

  14. August 3, 2010 4:15 pm

    @Snarky: That’s Temuera Morrison, he’s a national treasure!
    I love that it is now a layer of Star Wars cannon for Concordians to have NZ accents (random factoid: there is a big NZ band called Concord Dawn). As an interesting aside, a lot of the criticism in NZ among sci-fi fans of Tem being Jango was that omg now Star Wars will be ‘ruined’ by Jango, Boba, and clone troopers having a ‘bad’ NZ accent. With ‘bad’ being that Tem has a particular type of NZ accent associated with Maori culture and low socio-economic status here. There is a big expectation of accent code switching for Maori and Pacific people here in order to be ‘taken seriously’. Tem doesn’t accent switch so a lot of white NZ has decided he’s ‘rough’ (and of course his ‘Once Were Warriors’ character must be what he is like…).

    Ahhh! I rather liked his accent, but until I did some research didn’t realize he was Fett the father! He’s a wonderful actor. He’s like NZ’s answer to Jimmy Smitts. I want more of him. He’s wonderful charismatic and I have to see the sequel (I didn’t know there WAS one!!!) to Once Were Warriors.

  15. Octavia permalink
    August 4, 2010 3:56 am

    He’s going to be Abin Sur in the Green Lantern movie next year too. I love his accent! I grew up in a rural area so that accent sounds like home to me. And I love that he just won’t cover his accent for film work.

  16. August 6, 2010 10:37 am

    I’m finally commenting back to the kind people who responded!

    @Snarky’s Machine Yes! The odds never change, no matter who or how many people are playing. The killer element is how the lottery makes you think that buying more tickets will give you “improved chances” of winning the jackpot. I guess if you bought 75 million tickets, then you’d have an “improved” chance, but even then, that’s still a coin flip, assuming you’d have a coin after spending to buy all those tickets.

  17. August 6, 2010 10:37 am

    @Octavia thanks for your perspective about how the lottery works in your country. I suspect that such issues are a lot more obvious in a society that’s as small as yours. Many times, in the US, you don’t notice such practices just because there are so many people. For example, in New York, the lottery constantly runs commercials at various times, often during newscasts and sporting events, so that doesn’t seem “targeted” at any particular group. But the practice of encouraging people to play is certainly out there: weeknights, they draw the evening numbers during the “Wheel of Fortune” game show, a popular viewing habit of the older folks.

  18. August 6, 2010 10:43 am

    @badhedgehog thanks so much! We have a “regular” lotto game (and most of these state lotteries do as well) that you select 6 numbers out of 59. When the game first began, it was 6 out of 40, which was difficult enough. Then they just kept adding numbers, allegedly to “allow” you to “win” a “bigger jackpot.” But the real stomach turner are these Mega games. I’m astounded at how unfair the odds/payouts are, and I think a lot of people who either are focused on the big prize (and of course everyone is) or aren’t paying attention don’t realize what’s going on. It’s so much worse than even Vegas odds, I want to just hand Steve Wynn my wallet!

  19. August 6, 2010 10:49 am

    @hsofia I think the “innocent” concept of the lottery is a fun thing… it gives you that chance to dream and maybe you will win something… because people do win these huge jackpots. Some people have won several! I think if it’s having a negative impact on your life… like you aren’t making the rent because you’re buying scratch off tickets, maybe it’s time to stop.

  20. August 6, 2010 10:50 am

    @raymondj I’m glad you made good use of your winnings! I just hope your numbers didn’t come up for that drawing…

  21. August 6, 2010 10:59 am

    @IrishUp you’re absolutely right! The psychological behaviorists are definitely in on the lotto pay schedule, and I’m quite confident they have tweaked and twisted the games to squeeze the most money possible out of the population.

    Here in NY, there are a bunch of games to play. A whole variety of scratch off tickets ranging from 1 dollar to 30 (!), then the 3 digit and 4 digit games that happen during the day and evening. There’s a lotto game that lets you select 5 numbers from a field of 39 where the prize is 80,000 (but if someone else wins, you split that money with them) and that is drawn every day. There’s another where you pick 6 numbers out of 40 to win a flat one million dollars twice a week. the “regular” lotto 6 out of 59 game which has jackpots starting at 3 million and going up a half million for every draw that no one wins, two times a week. And then the two I talked about, above.

    It is a study in human behavior in a way, and a very profitable one, at that!

  22. hsofia permalink
    August 6, 2010 12:09 pm

    One of the saddest things I ever saw (seriously) was a news story on a huge ~$300M mega lottery jackpot in Oregon. The news crew was hanging out at a convenience store at the Oregon/Washington border, interviewing folks who’d come in to buy tickets. I’ll never forget this one man, who was probably in his mid 60s. He was close to retirement age, but unable to retire. He had scrounged up all his money and borrowed from friends and relatives to buy $800 worth of lottery tickets. He was on camera saying something along the lines of, “This is my last chance. I have to win this. I have to believe ….”

    After that, I could never view mega lotteries as fun. His desperation offset all the clever “dollar and a dream” ads I’d grown up seeing.

  23. August 6, 2010 12:26 pm

    @hsofia There really are three things that are happening with a mega lottery that makes them sinister. The first is the promise of huge money for a small sum. This is the poor person’s “Wall Street,” because how could they invest in the stock market that has all sorts of economic effects and various issues about what causes a company’s value to go up and down. It’s so difficult to understand. When picking 6 numbers? That’s pretty easy. Plus the payouts are a lot faster.

    The second is the odds v. payout differential. The fact that the payout on a 500 dollar win in the 3 digit numbers game is half the odds should be across the board for all of the payouts on these games. But since it’s not and in fact they are only paying roughly one eighth the odds in most cases on these mega games, the lottery wins big, even if you beat them!

    Finally, it’s in the fact that you will lose a whole lot of your money right back to taxes if you are a big winner. Really, a Casino is a better way to spend your cash than one of these mega lotteries. At least, you’re more likely to win there.

    But this is why individuals aren’t permitted to start their own lottery! If they did, they’d be making the kind of money everyone playing these games is trying to win!

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