Final Lotto Experiment Update: Odds and Ends

10 Jan 2016 – Indianapolis

After ten days, the Hoosier Lottery’s victory is complete. To recap, on New Year’s Eve, I bought $100 of lottery tickets: 80 Hoosier Lotto (jackpot $12 Million at the time, now $13.2 Million) and 10 Powerball (jackpot $300 Million at the time and now $1.3 Billion!!!) I wanted to see how many times I could “reinvest” (regamble?) any returns until either the returns exceed $100 or the returns go to $0. After four rounds and diminishing returns, my final ticket yielded but a single matching number, ending the experiment not in the way I had hoped, but how I knew it would probably end at the start. The lotto took all.

It is curious that the 1 in 12.3 million Hoosier Lotto jackpot odds seemed reasonable. It only seems reasonable next to the insane Powerball jackpot odds of 1 in 292,000,000. The odds of winning the Hoosier Lotto jackpot are slightly worse than those for an American dying in a plane crash in a year (1 in 11,000,000) and much worse than the odds of drawing all four aces in four consecutive draws from a full deck of cards (1 in 6.5 million). Regarding winning the modest sum of $1,300 in the Hoosier Lotto (1 in 48,696), I am actually far more likely to die by assault with a firearm in the US (1 in 24,974), which leaves me incredulous. The odds of winning $1,300 are better, though, than the chances of asteroid 2013 TV135 hitting Earth in 2032 and creating “an explosion equivalent to 2,500 megatons of TNT, or 50 times greater than the most powerful nuclear bomb ever used.” (1 in 63,000) Yay.

The lotto allows us to transform worries about the future to dreams about the future. My jackpot fantasies percolated over the last few days. I dreamed about opening a meditation center in the woods with a big kitchen, lots of books, and a closet full of brown t-shirts and comfortable brown pants. In my dreams, our days would be spent working towards peace. The dream expanded to include a group home for the elderly (including my mom and in-laws). My wife’s imagination painted a picture of a properly-funded mental health treatment center with plenty of room for patients to roam and enriching activities. There was a boat and a dog somewhere in there, too. What one would do with jackpot money has become a regular conversation at work. For some, thinking about the lotto leads not to dreams, but to other worries. A number of people’s thoughts went directly to hiring lawyers to protect the money. Some expressed concern that people would come out of the woodwork to sue them. Others said that they would have to keep working even if they took home $3 million because that still wouldn’t be enough. Perhaps there is no amount of money that would bring them peace. Finding peace requires no money. It takes time and willingness to change, but it is otherwise free for everyone.

As I pulled the $20s from my wallet at the lotto counter, I thought about how much easier it is to make money if you already have money. I thought about the fact that I could on a whim spend $100 with zero real impact on my financial security or quality of life and wondered how many of the people in lines around the country at that moment were in the same position. For how many of them is this a game? How many buy lotto tickets regularly in lieu of a savings plan? How many have regular employment that pays well so that they can save money in a 401k? How many know what index funds are and buy them? How many are paycheck-to-paycheck and see the lotto as the only way to a financial security? Low income communities spend more on lotteries than high-income communities.

In the end, I remembered that I already live the dream, just on a smaller scale. I have to spend a lot of time at my job, which fortunately includes both people and content I enjoy. My colleagues are fun. I get to use my brain. I have a chair, heat in the winter, and AC in the summer. Life is good. I know I’m lucky. I’ll buy a couple of Powerball tickets for the next drawing anyway, just for fun. $1.3 Billion can buy a lot of brown t-shirts!

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