Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Shooting the Moon: Lottery Fever

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, to “shoot the moon” is British slang, going back to about 1823, that originally meant “to leave without paying rent.”  In card games it now carries the idea of risking everything for a possible but unlikely reward.  It may be influenced by the gambling phrase, “shoot the works” (1922), and the dice slogan, “go for broke.”  It conveys the image of aiming for something that is very hard, if not impossible, to reach.
Last month (March, 2012), millions of Americans across the country plunked down an estimated $1.5 billion in the hopes of winning the Mega Millions jackpot, which reached a record $656 million.  That takes “shooting the moon” to a whole new level.  Oh, the lottery did have guaranteed winners; the people that organized the operation collected a fortune.  Just subtract the $656 million spent out from the $1.5 billion taken in.  If you and I really wanted to win a lottery, we should not buy into one; we should run it!  You know I’m not serious.

Could you have had any reasonable hope of winning, if you had bought a $1 ticket?  Based on U.S. averages, you were about 8,000 times more likely to be murdered than to win the lottery and 20,000 times more likely to die in a car crash.

California statistician Mike Orkin, the author of “What Are the Odds? Chance in Everyday Life,” put the real chances of winning in perspective.

By the numbers, you had a 1 in 175,711,536 chance of picking the winning numbers.  That means the following, according to Orkin:

If you bought 50 tickets a week, you would win the jackpot every 68,000 years.

If every time you drove a mile, you bought one ticket, you would have to drive the equivalent distance of 370 roundtrips to the moon before you would win the jackpot.  (There we go again, “shooting the moon” …)

If you bought one ticket and had one friend in Canada, and you put the names of every single person in Canada in a container and drew one name at random, you would be five times more likely to draw your friend’s name than to win the jackpot.

If you bought one ticket, you would be 33 times more likely to be killed in the next year by a wasp or bee than you would be to win the jackpot.

Orkin, an associate vice chancellor at the Peralta Community College District, said you could guarantee a win, but only if you bought 176 million tickets and selected a different combination of numbers for each one.

Even if you had the money to do that, there would be one problem: If you filled out three tickets a minute, 24 hours a day, it would take 110 years to fill them out.

Believe it or not, Orkin said that it’s still worth a try.  “For a $1 bet, you can change your lifestyle if you win,” he said. “One dollar isn’t going to make you go bankrupt. Here you have this very, very small chance of completely changing your lifestyle, so why not spend a dollar on it?”  Orkin said that most people recognize that they aren’t going to be that one extremely lucky person who gets the $540 million jackpot. But they play anyway because they don’t want to be left out.  “It is sort of a public frenzy,” he said. “People like to get into the action.”

I must disagree with him there.  Why “get into the action,” when the “action” is losing money?

Tongue-in-cheek, Orkin urges losers to take heart, because they are in good company. They have become part of a massive social network.  “This is like the Facebook for gambling,” Orkin said. “For every winner, there are 176 million losers. You are just part of that group.”  Is that supposed to make losers feel better?

Also heartbreaking is this irony.  Rather than pulling the poor from the pit, the lottery in effect sinks them deeper and deeper in it.  A report from The Consumerist a few years back indicated that those earning less than $13K a year in the U.S. spent a whopping 9% of their income on lottery tickets.  According to author Jonah Lehrer, poor folks spend extravagantly on such “get-it-quick” propositions.  Their spending ensures their ongoing poverty, which keeps them buying tickets.

As for me, I’d rather invest in a sure thing.  Jesus said, “… lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."  Matt 6:20-21

In the Kingdom of God, there are no losers.  Sign me up.

Cory Collins


LowlyPAUL said...

Brother Collins I want to use this in the Sunday bulletin if you don't mind. It is a very good article.
B.D. Phillips

Cory Collins said...

Of course you may use it. Thanks for asking.