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September 09, 2021

In defence of playing, and losing, the lottery

Wouldn’t you know it, but Americans are flooding to their national lotteries again.

10492306-10492306-lottery-balls In the face of their economy, which insists on returning to strength about as quickly as British Columbia warms up to the HST, Yankee consumers have given the lottery biz a major boost of late – 17 states set all-time sales records in the fiscal year ending 2011, according to a recent USA Today survey.

Many detractors, of course, are hot on the prowl on this one. Lotto players, many with income levels familiar with the poverty line, just throw their money away, they say. It’s an investment akin to a Pete Rose autograph.

But let’s flip this thing around, shall we? In defence of lotto players, let’s look at the lottery not as an investment, but as a throwaway consumer purchase. Perhaps we can come to a conclusion where playing the lottery makes sense, even if you lose.

Certainly, the simplest of math can prove that winning the lottery is a long shot. Even in MSN’s recent feature, “Canada’s most winnable lotto jackpots,” the best odds Canadians were found to have of winning $1 million is 1 in 1.2 million. In the U.S., many grand prizes can come with odds exceeding 1 in 150 million.

*Bing: How do experts suggest you invest your lotto winnings?

Though the counterpoint in support of playing the lottery is this – lottery tickets should not be viewed as an investment, rather a disposable consumer transaction. For the cost of a $2 lotto ticket, shoppers can escape to a life of fantasy, however brief it may be. Akin the experience to visiting an amusement park or playing video games, if you must.

“Like a throwaway lifestyle magazine, lottery tickets engage transforming fantasies: a wine cellar, a pool, a vision of tropical blues and white sand,” wrote the New York Times’ Benedict Carey in 2007. “The difference is that the ticket can deliver.”

Call this irresponsible gambling if you will, but consider that at least lotteries are fair odds. The chances of winning are slim, yet they’re uniform across every barrier, racial and socioeconomic and everything in between.

The immediate counterpoint to this counterpoint: excess. When the lust for money leads to lotto overkill, buying dozens and hundreds of tickets a month, here is where all defence is thrown out the window. Here’s where all the denigrating lotto names like “Poor Tax” and “Stupid Tax” are applied, and regrettably fit the bill.

Within reason, though – and we’re constructing this post all under the guise of defending lotto playing within reason – perhaps the pursuit of a jackpot can be a good buy, after all. Even for the poor.

Because chasing the dream of a new car, a new home, a better life – who’s to say there isn’t simply value in the pursuit?

By Jason Buckland, MSN Money



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Gordon PowersGordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a financial services consulting firm. Gordon was a personal finance columnist for the Globe & Mail for many years, has taught retirement planning...

Jason BucklandJason Buckland

The modern-day MC Hammer of money, Jason can often be seen spending cash that isn’t his with the efficiency of a Wilt Chamberlain first date. After cutting his teeth as a reporter for the Toronto Sun, he joined the MSN Money team with...