The Odds of Winning

I played the State Lottery earlier. I didn't win; c'est la vie. But soft; a moment if you will while I put in my two cents on the lottery.

As many of you know, North Carolina is the last state on the East Coast to institute a lottery. This is due solely to the puritanical attitudes of all too many in our completely ineffectual state legislature. These prudes fought even the slightest notion of a state lottery for years citing a law written in the 1600s that supposedly forbade gambling.

This despite the fact that once Virginia and South Carolina started lotteries, North Carolinians streamed across the border to play.

This despite the fact that polls consistently showed that 70-75% of the state's adult population wanted a lottery.

This despite the fact that these are the same people that were always braying about how working people should be able to spend their money how they choose.

This pack of pusillanimous popinjays* fought the notion of the lottery for years with the same tired argument that "it'll hurt the poor." These are the same people that fight any notion of a raise in the state minimum raise with the same tired argument, coupled with the rejoinder that "it'll hurt business". Yet these are the same people that raised not one voice in protest when our vaunted state legislature rammed a statewide sales tax increase down our throats several years ago.

Funny, I don't recall hearing about how much the poor would be hurt then.

Naturally, politicians being what they are, they're not interested in the lowliest of their constituents. They're not concerned with the problems the poor and the homeless face every day, many of which are the fault of legislators trying to play God with the lives of those beneath them. So they very rarely do put in programs that actually help people. They simply let the local municipalites and the private sector do their jobs for them and then crow to the Folks Back Home about how effective a legislator they are and how they've raised so-and-so much money for their district and remember to re-elect Representative John Q. Porkbarrel this fall, y'hear? Thanky!

Of course, Rep. Porkbarrel doesn't live down here in the mud along with the rest of us. He's too busy drawing up blueprints for his mansion up on Mt. Olympus.

As someone who is actually poor, let me enlighten our Esteemed Legislature on a few things about us, in case any of them are actually reading this. Which I heartily doubt.

Poor people are not stupid. We understand that playing the lottery means going up against astronomical odds. We understand that most of the time, if we win anything at all, it'll be a niggling prize like 2 bucks or a free ticket. We understand that the money that is supposed to go for the power bill and the children's lunches isn't to be used on the lottery. We understand that there are those that have a compulsive gambling problem and have to be protected from themselves. We understand that there are moral grounds against playing the lottery. We understand that winning the lottery doesn't solve all our problems.

We understand all of this, and more.

But we also understand that even a slim chance of getting in on the good life is better than no chance at all, which is all the naysayers, fundamentalists and Rep. Porkbarrel can offer. We understand that winning will drive a stake in the heart of some of your most persistent financial problems**. (I always like to say money won't buy you happiness, but it puts a mighty dent in the sadness.) We understand that winning for a change, just once, is better than a string of morale-crushing defeats. We understand that winning gives us a shot at full participation in the American economy by reducing dependency on a broken social system. We understand that for some of us in the minority community, lottery winnings are the only real money we'll ever see in our lives. We understand that even modest lottery winnings can be a springboard to something better, if used properly. We understand that you can't win all the time.

We also understand that we're adults, and we can decide these things for ourselves.

I'm poor. I'm homeless. And I'll play that lottery as many times as I can. If I don't win, no big loss; I don't plan to blow a lot on lottery tickets. If I win, it'll be the happiest day I've had in recent memory.

And I'll finally get to go home.

*With apologies to Dr. Smith

**The top prize in the state lottery is currently $100,000, with a chance to double it. What would I buy with $200,000? Hmmm...maybe a house? Maybe college for the kids, so they can get good educations and never, ever have to spend another day homeless as long as they live? Maybe finally pay off some old bills so I can put my credit back in order? Nah, that would be wasting all that money, now wouldn't it?

I love this post Michael, and I couldn't agree more. To me its not about winning, its the idea I can. It's that happiness that I buy when I spend a dollar, because I honestly don't expect to win... its that I could.
Maybe finally pay off some old bills so I can put my credit back in order? Nah, that would be wasting all that money, now wouldn't it?

Not really. It would be the right thing to do.
I have been following your blog for a while, and I agree with most of what you say, but this post struck something with me. I've never been a fan of the lottery.

The idea that spending $2, arguably a very small amount, on the lottery when you and your family are homeless is appalling to me. Yes, I understand that it gives you some semblance of hope and some dreams of getting out of this mess. Wouldn't it be better to save it?

If you're making a decent salary, not living paycheck to paycheck, and you waste $2 on a lottery ticket that's one thing, but when you've got so little to start with, and you somehow feel that you don't have any better use for $2, I just don't get it.

As for me, I'm doing quite alright, making a decent living, but it still hurts me to throw away $2.
Hey Jeremy,

If he wants to spend a couple of dollars on the lottery that's his choice. I remember when I was in college and working at a grocery store, people would, on occasion, purchase steak with foodstamps. Other customers would see that and get really upset. I never understood why. Just because one is using foodstamps doesn't mean they can't enjoy nice things once in a while. As long as they are not abusing the system I don't have a problem with it. Now, hundreds of dollars spent on lottery a day - that might be a problem. But a couple of bucks once in a while? Naa. Two dollars isn't going to pay the rent.
Hi Kim,

Oh, I fully understand that it's his choice, I know. And, well, no, $2 won't pay the rent, but that's the point of saving.

In my opinion, spending $2 on the lottery is basically saying "I have *nothing better* to spend this $2 on, so I will buy a lottery ticket and spend it on hope".

If you saved the money every time the thought of wasting $2 or $1 or even $0.10 flickered in your mind, you would quickly have $50, then $100, then $200, etc., and eventually that *will* pay rent (or a chunk of the deposit, or any number of other things).

I'm all for everyone having free choice on what they spend money on, but I can't always agree with the choice that is made.

Becoming complacent in wasting small amounts of money is a dangerous precedent, especially for one who has very little to start with.

Buying steak on food stamps is similar: it says "I care more about eating steak today than eventually getting off of food stamps", which is a perfectly valid thing to think, but does (somewhat rightfully) piss some people off. C'est la vie, as Michael said.
Yea jeremy I hear ya, but people like to feel the sunshine every once in a while. To live your life with your nose to the grindstone ALL THE TIME can be painful. I think this holds true for the well off and the not so well off. I mean, I remember seeing some inspirational poster somewhere that said on a rich mans deathbed no one ever wished they spent more time at the office. I am an advocate of saving also, s AMericans I dont think we do that enough. It too much of "keeping up with the Jones'". Status and material accoutrements go hand in hand for some people. Its the easiest way to determine if someone is worth your time. You may not think its true, but a lifetime of dating makes me think so. I mean, we all know how articulate Mike is but I m sure more than often he has been miscontrued as a Ne'er-do-well based on appearance. I know I have. But back to the discussion. If he spends a couple of bucks on the Lottery, I dont think its a problem. The Lottery was created to aid the schools and the hospitals. So his 2 dollars(assuming he would only play once a week) isnt detrimental. I m not sure where you live that $2 can make a significant dent in an apartment deposit. You can save $2 every day for a full year and MAYBE get that apartment, and then lose it in 3 months when it becomes apparent that you gotta do more than save $2 to overcome this financial burden. Plus, if you play modestly all you d really do is compromise one day of(this is a real world example here): Substituting white bread(99 cents) for wheat bread($2.99). Canned milk(65 cents a can) for bottled milk($1.99 half gallon).
As another example, he s got kids, I feel he should give them something special occasionally not to let them get burdened with their situation too much(being homeless in the 3, 4, 5th grade is social isolation no matter where you are. Only the residents of New Orleans are exempt, only because they went through it ALL together).
But I do agree with you Jeremy, because I think alot of poor people place too much faith in the State Lottery, but given the nature of their daily interactions what more can they put their faith in? Hard Work? <---Rhetorical
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