Why the Lottery Isn’t the Answer to Your Problems

A few weeks ago, I put out a call on Twitter and on Facebook for detailed posts that people would like to see. I got enough great responses that I’m going to fill the entire month of July – one post per day – addressing these ideas.

On Facebook, Jeffrey requested that I discuss “why ‘winning the lottery’ isn’t the answer.”

In my eyes, the lottery (as it exists today) is a no-win proposition. Almost all of the time, you lose. On the rare occasions when your numbers do come up, you still lose.

If You Don’t Win: The Losing Proposition of Buying a Ticket
First of all, let’s look at the slim chance of winning. Since there are lots of lottery variations out there, let’s say that we’re looking at a PowerBall-esque lottery where you have to draw 5 white numbers and one red number to win. There are 49 white numbers and 42 red numbers.

Winning the grand prize – matching all the numbers – is a 1 in 80,089,128 chance, or roughly 1 in 80 million.

Winning common secondary prizes is also a long shot. Matching four of five normal numbers plus the “power ball” is a 1 in 1,668,523 chance. Matching all five white numbers is a 1 in 1,906,884 chance. Other small prizes are offered with better odds, but many of these amount to little more than a money refund.

The odds of being struck by lightning in a given year are 1 in 1,000,000. You have a better chance of being struck by lightning than you do of winning either the grand prize or a top secondary prize in a Powerball drawing.

In other words, the odds of you actually winning a significant amount from a single lottery ticket – or even a pile of them – is insignificantly small.

Even if the odds were perfect and you could guarantee yourself a prize by buying that many tickets, the prizes don’t match up to the ticket buying. For instance, if buying 1,906,884 tickets could guarantee you that you would win $200,000, which is the prize (in Florida, at least) for matching all five white numbers, you’d still be spending $1,906,884 to win $200,000 – a roughly 90% loss on your investment. If you were to play the “PowerPlay” version, you’d spend $3.8 million to win $1 million – a roughly 72% loss on your investment.

Every dollar spent on the lottery is far better off spent on the stock market – or even in buying gold. Yes, as much as I am against buying precious metals as your primary investment, it’s a vast improvement over buying lottery tickets. If you have $1,500 in cash, buy an ounce of gold instead of buying $10 in lottery tickets every week for the next three years. If you buy the gold, in three years you’ll have an ounce of gold. If you buy the tickets, in three years (unless you are extremely lucky) you’re going to have nothing.

What about the “distraction” and “escape” that the lottery provides? If you feel that you need “distraction” and “escape” from your life, the best way to start making that change is to invest that money. Instead of spending $5 on lottery tickets, put $5 in your savings account. Do that twice a week – as often as you would buy lottery tickets. In three years when you need to replace your car, you’ll have $1,600 for a down payment in place of a trade-in. This will make your car loan bills smaller – or possibly completely eliminate them. That kind of thing changes your life. It takes you from living paycheck-to-paycheck to a point where you can easily start socking away some money for the future.

If you still want a bubble of feeling good, go get some exercise in the fresh air. Take a long walk in the park. Start having a series of dinner exchanges with your friends for social benefit, where you all go to one person’s house once a week for a meal on a rotating basis. Join a community group. Do some volunteer work. Those will all give you a sense of feeling good while that $5 you were spending on lottery tickets goes elsewhere, creating the foundation for a truly better life for yourself.

If You Do Win: The Painful Proposition of Sudden, Unearned Wealth
The argument that people always use when talking about lottery tickets is “What if I win?” Well, what if you do win?

Cailie Rogers won $3 million in a lottery. Six years later, she’s a single mother of two working as a maid to make ends meet.

Ken Proxmire won a million dollars. Several years later, his wife left him and he filed for bankruptcy.

William Post won $16.2 million in a lottery. Within a decade, he declared bankruptcy, his brother ordered a contract killing on his life, his girlfriend dumped him and sued him, and he lives on Social Security.

Jack Whitaker won $315 million in the lottery. Within a decade, his wife divorced him, his daughter and granddaughter both died of consumption-related issues, his property was broken into repeatedly, and he wound up bouncing checks in casinos because he no longer had the cash to cover them.

I could go on listing these stories all day. There are a lot of them. Why? Money changes everything.

People you’ve known all your life suddenly start viewing you as their meal ticket. They ask for money and you either have to say no to them or start forking over cash to everyone you know. Say no to some and yes to others and you’re going to create tons of hard feelings. Criminals will target you because you’re suddenly rich without any experience in handling it.

In short, winning the lottery often means losing many of the relationships you care the most about, losing the safety of your home, and also losing the safety of your former relative anonymity. You’re now a target to criminals, a meal ticket and/or a lender to the people who used to form your close inner circle, and the source of angst not only in virtually every relationship you have with others, but often in the relationship between people you care about.

But hey, you’ve got money, right?

If someone handed me a winning lottery ticket, I would not cash it. It brings too much heartache. I would quietly (and preferably anonymously) slip that ticket into the hands of a charity that I care about and walk away from it.

Suddenly having tons of money changes everything – and rarely for the better.

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70 thoughts on “Why the Lottery Isn’t the Answer to Your Problems

  1. BirdDog says:

    The ability to live anonymously is one reason why I have no interest in winning the lottery. I’d much rather keep plugging away and building my savings than suddenly have to figure out how to manage multiple millions of dollars.

  2. lurker carl says:

    From these examples, I don’t see where the money actually changed anything. Their failures were an extention of their existing personalities.

    Callie Rogers was 16 years old when she won, no brainer where her fortune may have vanished to. Ken Proxmire lost his winnings in failed business ventures. William Post and Jack Whittaker filled their lives with shady characters and dealings long before reaping lottery winnings.

  3. Gretchen says:

    What are “consumption related issues?”

  4. Johanna says:

    lurker carl, are you saying that all 16-year-olds are inclined to waste money on frivolous things? Or just 16-year-old girls?

  5. krantcents says:

    “If someone handed me a winning lottery ticket, I would not cash it”. Your statement surprises me! If it occurs, please contact me because I will take it in a heart beat. Not only can I handle it, but I will put the money to good use. My first thought is a educational foundation awarding scholarships.

  6. Holly says:

    Move to a state where you can claim the prize anonymously (not sure if that’s an option where you live) and just keep it to yourself…you can still donate to all of the charities that you would like.

  7. lurker carl says:

    Johanna, no brainer where her fortune may have gone. Callie Rogers freely admits to spending a considerable portion of that money on drugs and the rest on bling.

  8. mike crosby says:

    Dang. I didn’t win the lottery but I did come into an inheritance. I wanted to do a one time maximum gift because your blog has been such an inspiration.

    Oh well, I guess more for the others who’ve been a blessing to me.

    Continued success and I like your integrity.

  9. Katie says:

    What are “consumption related issues?”

    Maybe they actually won the lottery back in the Victorian era?

  10. Nick says:

    I’m sure that there are a number of cases where people have won money and actually used it for positive changes in their lives.

    These just happen to be not as interesting and so they go without mention.

    This of course doesn’t change the fact that it’s definitely a losing battle to play the lottery.

    If you do play (or were given a ticket) and won, it isn’t always the case that your life will end in despair… it’s what you make of it.

  11. Norman says:

    I saw a TV show not too long ago about this very subject and it was stated that winning the lottery makes your personality traits more magnified. For example, if you are a giving person, you will be even more so after you win. That works for the bad traits too.

  12. Johanna says:

    lurker carl: So what does the fact that she was 16 when she won have to do with any of that? I’m really confused by your comment.

  13. Mary says:

    LOL @ Katie

  14. valleycat1 says:

    consumption = drug overdose (I like Katie’s suggestion better)

    Unfortunately I know several people who expect ‘winning the lottery’ or ‘hitting it big at the casino’ to solve all their problems.

    The one time I went to a casino, all I could think was that I might as well just hand out my (very limited) cash to the other people there to light their cigarettes with. Not to mention that I was bored to death, nauseous from the smoke, and headachy from all the flashing lights & noise!

  15. Emma says:

    Consumption= tuberculosis?

    I would cash the check.
    @#5 kratcents “My first thought is a educational foundation awarding scholarships.” I like the idea.I hope that it would be scholarshpis for lower middle and middle class youth. Families with lower income(or false, undocumenetd lower, or single for purpose of taxes) already are getting their education for free at state schools, plus every grand that is there. Many times more than a student needs. It is the middle class that pay for everything from their own pockets. In some states it pays to be poor. (NY)

  16. Emma says:

    At Johanna. I think what the author says is- a 16 years old doesn’t not have experience with money and therefore are destin to misuse it.

  17. Todd says:

    Great post. I’d extend this to include ALL unearned money. If you earned it, you feel good about it; if you didn’t earn it, it tends to mess a lot of things up.

    A college friend of mine was from a family that had inherited millions of dollars from a grandparent. The family had always been a fairly frugal middle-class family, even though the mom had grown up with parents who owned a large company. When the inheritance came, along with it came envy, bitterness, gold-diggers, etc. Even old friends suddenly felt “awkward” around them. Relatives expected them to provide money as needed–and huge sums became “needed.” The parents ended up having to move to another city, and all of their relationships suffered from dealing with the money. My friend said, “I feel like I can’t trust anyone anymore.” Apparently, I was included. After he got a new car, I was a little too admiring–feeling the leather seats, oohing and ahhing over it. I told him how lucky he was to have so much money. Shortly after that he stopped returning calls. I still feel bad about it. I honestly never would have asked him for anything.

  18. Adam P says:

    Another anecdote, for what it’s worth. When I worked in Montreal, one of the accountants I hired had a brother win an incredible sum of money from the lottery—to the tune of around $20 million I believe.

    A Mexican gang (this is Montreal bare in moind) somehow became involved, and there were kidnapping attempts and death threats. Subsequently, there are rules about anonymous winning of the lottery rather than being forced to participate in some media blitz if you’re a big winner which puts a bullseye on your back for the mob/gangs/criminals.

    I, unlike Trent, would cash the ticket, but would find out how to do it anonymously. I kind of have seen first hand that winning that much money can ruin a person’s life (and their loved ones) even when they are good with money.

  19. Paula says:

    There was a story on the Today Show website today about a Seattle man who won the lottery five years ago. He still works as a janitor and coach at the high school and is building them a $40,000 track. He still lives in a small house in the same neighborhood he has been in for 35 years!

  20. Paula says:

    So, no, winning the lottery isn’t the answer to your problems. But, I do believe that people can do great things with money, whether its won, inherited, or saved…

  21. Bill says:

    There is a show on cable, ‘The Lottery Changed my life’ and many of the people live happily ever after.

  22. Johanna says:

    I’m seeing a couple of different morality-play narratives here, and I don’t think either of them is accurate.

    One is “Lottery winnings (or other large windfalls) always ruin people’s lives, so I wouldn’t want to win the lottery even if you made me.” That’s just a variant of the “People with lots of money/stuff are always secretly miserable, so we should all quit our high-paying jobs and pick green beans” line we get around here every so often.

    The other is “It’s only stupid/immoral people whose lives are ruined by large windfalls. Intelligent/moral people (like me) do just fine. So bring it on.”

    In reality, I don’t think any of us knows exactly how we (and the people around us) would be changed by a large windfall. It sounds like windfalls ruin some people’s lives, but others do just fine – and that second group probably includes some people that we think don’t deserve it. Because life isn’t fair.

    I don’t play the lottery, for the first reason Trent mentioned: The odds are not in my favor (as is the case for every gambling operation, because every gambling operation exists for the “house” to make money). And if somebody handed me a winning lottery ticket for some reason, the first thing I’d do is make an appointment with a lawyer. Then I’d go from there.

  23. getagrip says:

    The nice thing about inheritances, is unless you’re blubbering what you got all over town, no one has to know. Lotteries have a vested interest in ensuring winners are named rather than anonymous because they have to demonstrate that real people are winning. That’s their draw. Someone always ends up winning.

    I know someone who won a ten plus million lottery. Yes, you will learn who your friends are especially when you stop buying every round. People will hit you up daily with all these “can’t lose” ideas where you put up the money and they’ll work the business. At best family may hint they could use some financial help, at worst they’ll flat out demand 10-20% of the winnings just because you’re related. You could find yourself being coerced or bullied into taking a buyout of some kind if you have an annuity payout, because the person(s) has been offered a large incentive (tens of thousands) to get you to sign that paperwork without having a professional check it out. Yes if the marriage is already rocky, or the kids already having issues, there’s likely divorce and problem children in the future.

    If you watch that lottery show, it does seem true that whatever personnality you have, whatever family problems you have, just gets magnified. That and you learn quick that you will need to protect yourself from people doing stupid things to try to get you to give them money.

    In the end the person I know is probably doing better than if they hadn’t won the lottery. After a few years the family he wanted to keep in touch with, he’s in touch with. Friends who stuck with him are still friends. He makes more a year even after the divorce than he could have made working, and he isn’t on disability because of the health issues he was marching towards. It doesn’t have to be a destructive event.

  24. Cheryl says:

    The way I look at it is if I don’t play the lottery, I win every week because of the money others are using to fund whatever the lottery funds in my state.

  25. con says:

    I agree with what most havve been saying already. I do play the lottery, maybe $2 a month because I don’t usually remember to play it. Never more than $2, though. If I want to play it and I am still doing fine, so what? Money wasted? Most certainly. But whatever. Who cares. I don’t hardly ever eat out and I don’t ever “buy” books and I don’t ever buy board games even for cheap.

    I would hope I would do good with it. Again, who knows? But I’d like the opportunity to see. From what I understand, the Lottery Board has to publish your name on their forum, but you certainly don’t have to have your picture taken with the “big” oversized check. So, it’s most likely your friends or family would never know if you chose not to tell them.

  26. con says:

    One more thing. Again, I know I most certainly will really, really never win. It all depends on what you can afford and what you cannot. And, I’m guessing here, but I think if you say “If someone handed me a winning lottery ticket, I would not cash it,” how do you know?

    You have said in past posts that you’d like to retire to do whatever you want on $2 million or such (building your house in the country). What’s to say you wouldn’t keep your winnings to attain that goal sooner and then, if you kept working for an income, to give further earnings to charity? One never knows. All I’m saying. But I guess you know you best.

  27. Jake says:

    I have been looking for an article about winning the lottery and how it causes more harm than good. Congrats Trent great examples!

  28. lurker carl says:

    Johanna, I’ll connect the dots for you. A 16 year old winning a lottery was international news because the age of majority is between three and five years lower in the UK than in the US. Draw whatever conclusions you please.

  29. Johanna says:

    lurker carl, you are still making no sense. In your original comment you said of the lottery winners, “Their failures were an extention of their existing personalities,” but the only thing about Callie Rogers you’ve mentioned is that she was 16 years old. Is being 16 years old an aspect of one’s personality? Do all 16-year-olds have the same personality? Is it inevitable (or a “no brainer”) that a 16-year-old would blow millions of dollars on “drugs and bling”? I can think of many who wouldn’t (although they might screw up in different ways).

    I still have no clue whatsoever what point you are trying to make.

  30. con says:

    #29 Johanna,

    I remember reading her story some time back. I think she did drugs and such and blew a lot/all of her money. He, in my opinion, was generalizing about 16 year-olds when perhaps he should not have. But I have a feeling you know that and are trying to call him on it.

  31. moom says:

    Most people who win moderate amounts of in lotteries probably do fine. In fact there is research on that though I can’t find it right now… I certainly would take the winning ticket. If it was public I imagine the biggest issue would be dealing with charities and financial advisors who would be looking for business. I can’t imagine any relatives or friends asking me for money. This is probably a class based thing.

  32. Sandy says:

    While I agree with your post in about buying lotto tickets ( I don’t bother ) I was a bit taken aback by the ‘If You Do Win: The Painful Proposition of Sudden, Unearned Wealth’ bit down the bottom and have to agree with lurker-Carl. Tons of people also do win and it changes their lives for the better. I worked with a woman who won first division lotto here, and it enabled her and her husband to retire early. It has caused her no problems, she comes and visits us sometimes and is very happy.
    Who says you have to tell a single soul? I wouldn’t. Our lotto winners are completely anonymous unless they dont want to be. A win would enable me to leave my job ( which I hate ) and retrain with no student loan and no money worries while I study. BUT it ‘ain’t gonna happen…coz I don’t buy tickets…lol…. Trent, that section of your post today sounded like the comments of a jealous person to me….someone who would secretly quite like to win….

  33. deRuiter says:

    Loads of people win the lottery and manage their lives and money nicely. Trent, if you won the lottery you could buy your dream property, build your dream house, and give the rest to charity if you were so inclined. I guess the lottery can be a fun way to spend a couple of dollars occasionally, I don’t know as I never played. But I’m with the early writer, it’s kind of a stupid tax (on those who are of modest means who buy lots of lottery tickets) because the vast majority will never hit big. Some of the money goes to support good causes, or at least that’s what we’re told. I’m with Trent in that I put some money away ever week, and it’s swept into an ING account each month, to buy a new car when the time comes. I’ll feel like I’ve won the lottery when I sweep into the dealer showroom, negotiate a good deal on a stripped down minivan, and then drive it 10-15 years with no car payment. Incidently, I saved almost an extra $1,000. buying my last van by agreeing to dealer finance. We combed the rental agreement, and there was no prepayment penalty for paying off the loan early. If the van was financed, the dealer would drop the price another one thousand dollars. So I signed the agreement to finance part of the van, the dealer dropped the price a thousand dollars, I made one payment, and then paid off the loan, saving one thousand dollars minus the interest for one month.

  34. Annie says:

    If i won the lottery, i would pay off all my student loans and make sure my sister, mom and dad are well taken care off. Then i would give a portion to charity and invest the rest so i don’t lose my winnings and live a comfortable life. I don’t think i would give all my money to charity and just walk away from it becaseu it could ruin my life. There are some people that don’t know what to do with money when they get it and shame on those that think you can get a meal ticket from someone you know that won. I think that shows that they are not your true friends and they will try to get a free ride anyway they can. I have no problems saying NO to others and if they choose to not be my friend or hang out with me that is their loss.
    I am playing the lottery this weekend! maybe i will win and be a new person……….

  35. Mandolin says:

    I am very surprised Trent wouldn’t cash the ticket. I don’t play the lottery but occasionally I have a relative who gets me one for the holidays. I have so many positive financial goals that would be more easily achieved with any kind of a windfall, that yes I would cash the ticket. I wouldn’t tell anyone. I wouldn’t move or upgrade my home, but I would pay it off. I love my job so I would keep working. I’d travel a little more and work a little less. I would invest for fun and for long term. My siblings would get nice gifts every year…as would charities who helped me when my parents died. I would start scholarships. I believe if you are grounded, keep your same financial goals, not a braggart, and doing something meaningful with your life, getting a windfall would be a positive development. There are people who can manage money well. You just don’t hear about them because the story isn’t made for tabloids.

  36. Gretchen says:

    Is drug overdose a common use of “consumption” Obviously, I also think TB/cancer. I thought it was one, but it turns out it meant the other one.

    Anyway. I don’t play when my coworkers play the large pots (hey- I’m $2 richer than almost everyone else the next day) but have played scratch offs.

    I would tend to say the lower amount larger money winners (awkward phrasing) aren’t going to do as poorly. You win $20K, exciting, but certainly not enough to quit your job.

  37. Kate says:

    Trent’s post sounds to me like the “wink, wink…our lives wouldn’t change if we won the lottery” game that my husband and I play when he occasionally splurges and buys a dollar ticket (maybe once every eight months). The interesting thing, to me, is that our ideas about what we would do with the winnings are so initially different yet end up at the same place. He would quit his job immediately but I would keep working. Both of us, though, would spend a large part of it on charities.

    To me, lottery winnings are like a death in the family. Some people/families weather a death and come out closer because of it. Some people/families drift in life for awhile and drift apart. Some people/families think only of themselves and tear into each other trying to get all they can out of it.

  38. Kevin says:

    Gretchen makes a great point, I would have liked to have seen Trent explore a little bit about winning a modest pot, instead of the jackpot. If you win $50,000, that’s enough to fix a lot of problems in your life, without making you go crazy. It wipes away a bunch of debt, leapfrogs you closer to retirement, enables that trip you’ve always wanted, or whatever, but it’s not enough to cause permanent damage to otherwise healthy relationships.

  39. Kevin says:

    Also, all you self-righteous ninnies, bleating about how you’d “give a bunch of it to charity” aren’t fooling anyone. We’ll see if you put your money where your mouth is if you ever inherit any money from deceased relatives. That money is every bit as “unearned” as a lottery win, but something tells me you’ll suddenly find reasons why you need that cash more than the Food Bank does, or why an inheritance is “completely different” from a lottery win.

  40. Johanna says:

    @con: “He, in my opinion, was generalizing about 16 year-olds when perhaps he should not have.”

    That was my initial opinion as well, but based on his follow-up comments, I really have no idea. Are 16-year-olds any more likely than anyone else to have drug problems? I don’t know the statistics, but it seems to me that they are not.

    But if there are untrue generalizations involved, I really do think that we’re dealing with ones specific to 16-year-old girls, not all 16-year-olds. (Are 16-year-old boys fond of “bling”?) So many people – even the intelligent people here who should know better – hear “teenage girl” (or “young 20-something woman”) and think “shallow, materialistic princess who can’t get enough designer clothes and other frivolous stuff.” I am not making this up – this stereotype appears on this blog over and over again.

    If lurker carl did not intend to appeal to that stereotype, he can clarify himself at any time. But I’m not holding my breath.

  41. lurker carl says:

    Johanna, Callie Rogers was a fledgling who was dabbling in drugs when she won, no brainer where the money may have gone. A quick Google search would have answered all your questions and more in far less time than your continuous expressions of cluelessness.

  42. Johanna says:

    lurker carl, I am not asking about the specifics of Callie Rogers’s case. As you correctly point out, those are easily found via google. I am asking what point YOU, lurker carl, were trying to make when you said “Their failures were an extention of their existing personalities. Callie Rogers was 16 years old when she won, no brainer where her fortune may have vanished to.” But since it’s clear that you don’t want to answer, I’m done asking.

  43. Nancy says:

    I only buy one lottery ticket when the lottery is over $200 million. I then spend the day talking to my students about “What would you do if you won?”

    My list: a computer giving program at my school, a scholarship program, adding to libraries, and the like. It makes my students think about what they would do.

    My mom received a phone call from an attorney a few years ago. Apparently, her great aunt who moved to a far away state cited her as her only heir to her large (millions) estate. Two weeks later, it was discovered that she had willed her entire estate to the American Cancer Society. She was absolutely O.K. with that. When I get phone calls from the Cancer Society I say, “We’ve already given!”

  44. Roberta says:

    One point that nobody seems to have mentioned is the ethics overall of gambling. Is it too old-fashioned of me to say it’s flat out wrong? I grew up hearing it from my church and my parents, and I still believe it. It’s trying to get something for nothing instead of working for what you have. Saying that the profits go to education or some other social good doesn’t make it right either. If we believe in that social good, we should support it because it’s the right thing to do for our society as a whole.

    If you can’t handle what you do have wisely, what makes you think you can handle more wisely?

    Yes, modest amounts could change people’s lives for the better as some have mentioned – paying off student loans, affording better health care, fixing up a house that needs it, helping family or charities. But that’s not what I’m hearing.

  45. Jules says:

    I agree that playing the lottery is a losing proposition and that you shouldn’t play unless you don’t mind losing. On the other hand, I also take issue with the idea that winning is tantamount to losing everything you have.

    First of all, it’s not all-or-nothing for most lotteries. Most lotteries offer a small cash prizes to many people with a number or two right. This is how my mother plays the lottery: she’ll win back the money she spent on the tickets, and then play again. For her, it’s a bit of fun at a relatively cheap cost (she plays the smaller lotteries, maybe $1/ticket or something like that, and usually makes back close to or sometimes a little more than what she spent).

    Secondly, if your so-called friends suddenly start acting differently towards you just because you have money, they probably weren’t really your friends to begin with. After all, if real friends don’t abandon you if you suddenly resort to frugal living, then why should they abandon you if a windfall lands in your lap?

    Yes, money changes everything. But if you’re smart about it, it changes everything for the better.

  46. Johanna says:

    Kevin, you know, there are some self-righteous ninnies who give “a bunch” of the money they *do* earn to charity. (Is this a new concept for you?) So I wouldn’t actually put it past them to do the same with the money they don’t earn.

  47. Riki says:

    I find Trent’s claim that he would “would quietly (and preferably anonymously) slip that ticket into the hands of a charity that [he] care[s] about and walk away from it” to be sanctimonious and ridiculous.

    I’m so happy you live on moral high ground, Trent. Congrats.

  48. Mister E says:

    Personally I’ve never been one to play the lottery aside from a pool that I’m in at work the last couple of years. On the remote chance that we win big I don’t want to be the only one still showing up for work on Monday morning, right?

    Also, although a portion of the money would definitely find it’s way to charitable causes, most would definitely stay in my pocket or go to helping out friends and family.

  49. Mike C says:

    Very interesting post… One thing nobody mentioned: many people that win the lottery play a lot. Playing a lot increases your chances of winning. But playing a lot usually indicates some underlying gambling addiction, that usually gets worse once a large sum of money is available. Most of the people commenting here are probably responsible and smart enough not to play the lottery, or to play very little, so they are very unlikely to win.

    As of the ethics of gambling: I do not think there is anything morally wrong with gambling. In a gambling transaction both parties enter the deal freely. There is nothing wrong with “getting something for nothing”: you took a risk, and got rewarded for it (unless you are a casino the reward was not worth the risk, but that’s a different story).

    However I do think that casinos and the gambling industry take advantage of the weakness and ignorance of gamblers: many gamblers do not understand the risks they are taking, they do not understand their odds, they believe in streaks, or in lucky charms. I think taking advantage of people is wrong, and that’s they main thing I dislike about gambling. On the other hand nobody puts a gun on anybody’s head to go into a casino. So in that sense I think they are a legitimate business, just like permanent life insurance, gym memberships or fast food.

    What bothers me, however, is that lotteries are usually run by the government. The same government that thinks they know better than you if you can smoke or drink sugary drinks. That same government has no problem with taking advantage of people’s ignorance by selling them lottery tickets. I think that is extremely hypocritical, and, yes, morally wrong.

  50. Laura in ATL says:

    “The argument that people always use when talking about lottery tickets is “What if I win?” Well, what if you do win?”

    Trent, you listed examples of people who won the lottery and squandered their winnings. Surely you understand that there are also a LOT of people who win the lottery and do not squander it. They use the money to truly enrich their lives and their family’s lives.
    I have a friend who won 7.5million in a state lottery. That was her take home amount. She has not squandered it at all. She bought a house for herself, paid off her older brother’s house, and paid for her younger brother’s college education by putting money into a fund. She has bought a beach property for herself, that her retired parents live in full time and that she will use for herself later on in life. She travels with her family to amazing places and takes educational trips (cooking lessons in Itlay, architecture classes in Greece) to improve herself and her mind.

    And she still works (happily) full time. She was 29 when she won and is now 36.

    Not everyone squanders their winnings. Many, many people having winnings and go on to really make positive changes in their lives. You just dont read about them in the papers.

  51. Kathryn says:

    I personally knew someone who won a large lottery (10 mil?). She continued to live her normal life, kept her job (mostly for insurance as she had a chronic illness), and maintained a happy home. She didn’t even come in often (i’m a massage therapist) as she was too busy to do so. She did retire early (at 55?) about 10 years after winning and built a nice home in Montana. I’m sure that she has not changed much and is not splurging hugely since that time.

    I don’t remember the last time i bought a lottery ticket. Years. When i worked at a job with lots of co-workers, they would do a lottery pool and on occasion i would add a couple of dollars to the pool, but more to be part of the group than believing we would win.

    My ex was about as irresponsible with money as anyone i’ve ever known. Long, long story. But one of the many times he was laid off or fired, he spent $50 of his severance pay on lottery tickets. I was totally baffled and angry with that. Of course he didn’t win. Even if he had, he was the type that would blow thru it in a couple of years and come to a place just as bad as where he stared. (Thankful he is an ex.)

  52. littlepitcher says:

    Who funds these winnings? I can look out the back window and see two tenants who do. One, disabled, took his entire back payment check–nearly $5G–and spent it all on beer and lottery tickets in less than a month. He got a reimbursement for medical expenses and it was gone within a week. The second tenant had a $1500 back pay settlement, his GF works, and she receives a widow’s pension. All came in on the first, and this is the seventh, and they are broke again. She wears a groove in the asphalt going down to the store for “just one more”.

    A dollar a day is $365. That’s just over a third of an emergency fund. Two acquaintances, daily players, have won $500 once, but have spent for years to do it. No, I don’t play, and Trent’s check for charity probably would go to support at least some of these improvident gamers.

  53. Allie says:

    You know, not all charities are for supporting the poor, or even for supporting people. I doubt highly that, for example, a charitable donation to an animal rescue group or an art institute would go toward supporting gamblers of any stripe.

  54. Johanna says:

    littlepitcher knows two poor people who sometimes buy lottery tickets. Therefore, nobody should ever support charities that help poor people.

    Does not follow.

  55. Jonathan says:

    “I find Trent’s claim … to be sanctimonious and ridiculous.

    I’m so happy you live on moral high ground, Trent. Congrats.”

    How is not accepting a large sum of money, based on the belief that it brings heartache and unwanted stress, being sanctimonious?

  56. maria says:

    #52 littlepitcher”s comment made sense to me and I was able to follow.
    Johanna, maybe if you read it a little slower you might be able to follow also..

  57. Johanna says:

    maria, it made perfect sense to me as well. I just find the notion reprehensible.

  58. maria says:

    Johanna,
    Direct Quote from Trents link to *Callie Roger*…”Like most teenagers, Rogers simply pissed away the money…”
    Yep, when it comes to 16 year olds, male or female (no need for YOU to play the gender card yet AGAIN) it would be a fair assumption that if given a windfall of 3mil that a VERY large amount of 16 year olds would fall into this generlization would be a no brainer.

    If you “still have no clue whatsoever” of the point Lurker Carl was trying to make… well that’s a no brainer also..
    Actually, I agree with Con that you most likely understood. You were just looking for a chance to start another argument … perhaps a slow day at work and you needed something to do.

  59. DOT says:

    What did you find reprehensible?

  60. Allie says:

    The reprehensible bit is, I think, the idea that because some poor people are irresponsible with their money, no one should ever give any money to charity, because it might help irresponsible people. Throwing the baby out with the bathwater there.

    And, not reprehensible but just kind of mind-bendingly incorrect: the suggestion that all charities are for helping poor people, when that’s obviously not true.

  61. Johanna says:

    @Allie, I have to say, I find your response kind of unsettling as well. “Just give to charities that don’t help poor people!” is not the answer. Poor people still need help.

  62. Evita says:

    I am with Riki #47. I don’t believe one minute that in real life Trent would walk away quietly from a winning lottery ticket. Given that he has dreams for his family and has become a pretty good money manager. Come on!!

  63. Johanna says:

    maria: Are you denying that teenage girls and young women are stereotyped in the way that I described?

  64. Creede says:

    There are a couple of differences between me and many people who play the lottery. The second biggest one is that I have a plan for what I’d do if I won a huge sum of money. The first three things I’d get would be a lawyer, an accountant, and an unlisted phone number. I would then take the annuity option rather than the lump sum (I’m OK with spreading it out). I’d set aside a certain amount for toys, but my needs are modest so I’d buy modest toys with the modest amount. I’d set aside what I needed to live for a year. The rest I would put into a safe, revenue-generating investment – T-bills, perhaps.

    I doubt that I’d live long enough to collect the final payment on the annuity, but if I did, I would be set because of the investments.

    Of course the first thing that separates me is that I don’t play the lottery. I know I have approximately the same odds of winning whether I buy a ticket or not.

  65. Riki says:

    @Jonathan

    It’s sanctimonious because there is an implied value judgment there. Trent always tries to take a neutral stance on an issue but the follows through with a morally superior tone regarding his own personal choices.

    In this article, Trent shared several examples of people who squandered lottery winnings through poor decision-making and then proudly proclaimed that he wouldn’t even take the money. The implication is that only people who choose not to take the money are doing the right thing.

    Sanctimonious? Very.

  66. Gretchen says:

    Sanctimonious but also odd.

    Here’s something that never will happen to you, but if it happened to a friend and they gave it to me, I’d also pass it on.

  67. Alex says:

    Cherry-picking examples to prove an idea you already have your mind made up about does not make for a well-reasoned article.

  68. AnnJo says:

    @Mike C,

    While playing the lottery a lot will definitely increase your chances of winning, doubling or tripling an almost infinitesimally small chance of something still leaves an almost infinitesimally small chance.

    The biggest pleasure of playing the lottery seems to be the chance to day-dream about “what I’d do if I won.” I figure my chances of finding a winning ticket on the sidewalk are not materially different from my chances of buying a winning ticket. So I’ve decided that when I feel the urge to day-dream about winning the lottery, I might as well day-dream about finding the winning ticket on the sidewalk and save the cost of buying it.

  69. Allie says:

    @Johanna #61: I never said *anything* like that, and I’m sorry if it came across that way. I was trying to address the phrasing of “Trent’s check for charity probably would go to support…” – because of the assumption in it that there are no other types of charities that one might give to, which is an idea that is damaging to all charities.

  70. DOT says:

    I understood what you meant, Allie. Maybe Johanna should read the comments a little slower.However, I did not take the his comment to mean that you should not give to charity since the money may end up in the hands of irresponsible poor people. I took it as.. Yes, probably money that is donated to charity could and probably will end up in the hands of people that have similarities to the two people he was describing.. which I do not find as a reprehensible notion but as a factual statement.

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