Sunday, April 17, 2016


California has seven draw lotteries going all at once. You can play some semi-weekly, some daily, and still others twice or three times a day. One advertises “There’s a draw every 4 minutes.” You can add the national lottery to that, so if you’re feeling lucky there’s no lack of outlets for you to try. Oh, and if you don’t like to wait for drawings, there are seven scratch-off ticket games you can buy into from one dollar on up, for prizes up to the tens of thousands.
The odds vary from terrible to astronomical, but so what? The potential rewards are astounding. Someone won 22 million dollars just a couple of weeks ago. Not bad for the price of a dollar and a few seconds’ breathlessness as the numbers are drawn.   
The big numbers , like that 22 million, are yours only if you take the installment payout over the 20 or so years. If you take the lump sum up front -- a real temptation and the only practical course for some of us -- the amount is discounted for present value, which often comes out to half, and of course you pay tax on the half. You might wind up with only 35 percent of that big number, but -- wotthehell, wotthehell -- seven or eight million ain’t bad.
Some of my friends never play any of the games. I guess it’s the principle; they just don’t approve of gambling, or anyway not at those odds. Unarguable. But the other way to look at it is that for 365 dollars, you have 365 chances to win, on any given day, as much money as someone in a middle management job might make over 30 years. (We exclude bigtime corporate CEOs and hedge fund managers who hit their own jackpots long ago.) 

Then too, not hitting the big one doesn’t mean you’ve lost the $365 for the year. Secondary prizes from several dollars to several hundred are bound pop up along the way. A near-miss, say four numbers in a five-number game, can return your year’s investment and leave you  playing for free  to the end of your fiscal year.
 But of course it’s not the calculation of ROI that keeps you going; it’s the dream: “What would I do with 7 million dollars?” Somewhere in the state, someone is wrestling with that question right now.