A while ago, I was thinking about lottery games.  I was out walking in a not-so-good part of town and there were a bunch of discarded scratch-off lottery tickets on the ground.  I had heard that scratch off games have better odds, but I don’t play them.  I only play the lotto games.

A thought came back to me of a recent and rare win on my lotto ticket: $75.  It’s not a lot.  It’s definitely not a lot when I’m playing $5/game and buying 10 games in advance, making my ticket $50 every month or so.  But the person cashing me out at the convenience store was slightly envious and said “wow, that’s a lot of money.”

And I felt a slight pang of guilt, because that’s not a lot of money to me.  However, I still remember my youthful days when that would have been a lot of money.  It was a life of going day-by-day or week-by-week.  It was all before I started my true career and became a working professional.

So when I look at scratch-off lottery tickets, I see top prizes of $10,000, $20,000, $50,000, whatever, and I don’t even feel it’s worth my time.  I saw a recent movie where the protagonists ended up with $100k and were having dreams of travelling the world and retirement and living the rich life.  I just rolled my eyes.  You can’t get by for more than a few years on $100k.  Certainly not for the rest of your life.

To make the top prize worthwhile to me, it has to be able to permanently secure my future.  It would have to be the equivalent of 25 years of my current salary.  So I’m not going to find that kind of money from a scratch-off.  However, the people who play the scratch tickets with such passion may not be thinking as far ahead as I am.  The winnings could pay off a current car loan, pay for clothes, jewelry, furniture, but then it’s gone.  It’s gone and life goes on.

I also perceive a difference in how people approach the lottery.  Me, I’m stable in my financial life, so I just spend a set amount of money every week as play money.  In a twisted way of thinking, it could be viewed as an insurance policy – I may never use it (i.e. get a win), but I still pay for it.  If you think $75 is a lot of money, as my cashier did, then spending $10 or $20 a week on scratch-offs is significant.  That could be a tank of gas, a meal for the whole family, or a monthly bill.  Then winning $500 back would seem to be amazing, although you’d probably spent that much to get it. 

That’s probably the key right there.  If you’re spending $5 or $10 or even $20 on a ticket and you win $100, $500, or even $1000.  You could easily spend that much on tickets before and after your win, negating any winnings at all.  However, even at spending $10/week for 30 years on lottery tickets, that’s only $15,000.  But the win in this case far exceeds what was paid out.

It’s different gambling styles.  Do you want to have a lot of small wins that can keep you in the game until your balance slowly drops to zero, like playing $20 in a nickel slot machine, or do you take that $20 and play a single pull on a $10 slot machine?  I guess that might be a reflection of modern society that so many people are happy to have small wins in their life.

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