I Only Play The Lottery When The Jackpot Is Substantial

Let me start by saying that I’m not the one who said that. In fact, I don’t play the lottery at all. Heck, I don’t even buy scratch-offs or go to the casino to play Hold ‘Em anymore. The person who said that line was a complete stranger who I had never seen before. Secondly, I’m not condemning those who play the lottery for “wasting their money”.

I don’t see the harm in spending a dollar or two twice a week if you have it to spare. That issue is left to the people who want to argue the definition of “wasting” money, or who are holier than thou with the attitude of “if I don’t do it you shouldn’t either”. I just happened to overhear a conversation that didn’t make much sense to me.

I was in the gas station paying for gas (since the terminals on the pumps were down) and one patron commented to their companion that she didn’t play the lottery unless the jackpot was over $50 million when asked if she wanted to go in on some quick picks. My immediate reaction was “that has to be the most ignorant thing (not relative to race, sex, or nationality) I have heard in a long time.”

I don’t know about anyone else, but to me winning the lottery is a huge windfall that is significantly more than the initial money spent is worth it. That being sad, I know it’s not for everyone but if you choose to participate, I don’t see the distinction between “large” or “small” winnings. Now, I’m not talking about the 3-number $5 payoff, but rather I’m referring to jackpots of any size.

But for people to sit (or stand) there and actually say with a straight face that the initial drawing isn’t enough to make them play is absolute lunacy. If you play the lottery, then play the lottery, but don’t try to justify it by using the size of the jackpot as your determining factor for doing so or not.

There is one huge reason why this argument is flawed and makes little sense:

The lottery isn’t a raffle where the more you enter relative to others, the greater chance you have of winning; the odds of winning remain the same no matter how many entries are involved. The chance you have of winning is determined by the parameters of the drawing: the number of choices you have to make in relation to the overall options.

The one thing that does change is the number of possible winners increases as the number of entries increase. It’s simple math–with a finite number of combinations available the likelihood of multiple people picking the winning combination increases as more people enter.

As the jackpot increases, the number of entries is almost guaranteed to increase. Therefore, while your odds winning don’t change, the amount you may win decreases as the player pool increases. That, in and of itself is reason alone to choose to play lower-paying contests: your odds of picking the right combination remain the same but the number of winners isn’t likely to be as great, and your percentage of the possible winnings is greater should you win. Of course, nothing, not even a winner being selected is not guaranteed when it comes to the lottery.

Perhaps people simply don’t understand how a lottery works, which is why comments like that are heard fairly often. Perhaps they can only see the little picture–the amount in the prize pool–and can’t consider anything else that factors into the equation. I’m certainly in no position to judge. I nether have any background in psychology nor do I particularly care to attempt to pick apart the brains of people in general in this instance.

I just find it funny that some people place limitations on the amount of money they will have to win in the lottery before they buy in, even though the odds of winning are exactly the same regardless of the prize; that they scoff at possibly winning a “pittance” like $5 million when it’s still that much more than they currently have.