Why I don’t play the lottery


The lottery is about to top $1,000,000,000.  That’s a billion dollars.  Winning the lottery always seems to ruin the life of the winner, but nobody has ever won this much money before.  I can see how some irresponsible person might blow through 100 million dollars on Cheez-its and loose living, but a billion?  I think the person who wins a billion dollars will be just fine. I know I would, anyway. That’s more than the net worth of some small countries.  I would spend my winning responsibly and be very generous.  Probably.

But I can’t play the lottery.  My Dad always said that gambling was a sin.  My Dad even said putting a quarter in a pinball machine was a sin. “You’re just throwing your money away.”  He’s right (about gambling, anyway).  The lottery is, as they say, a tax on stupid people.  Or, at least a tax on people with bad math skills.  My mom (who is certainly no gambler!) disagreed.  She used to go visit her sister Imogene in Sacramento and every once in awhile they would drive up to Lake Tahoe and blow $20 in the slots.  She said, “It’s fun.  It’s just like any other entertainment. As long as you’re not addicted or anything….”

I can see my Dad’s point — and my Mom’s point — but economics isn’t why I don’t play the lottery.

When I was a newlywed and started getting actual mail, Ed McMann sent me (personally — just me) invitations to win the Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes.  “You, PAUL B. STEWART, could ALREADY be IN POSSESSION of THE winning NUMBERS….”  I entered, of course (since I was already in possession of the winning numbers and everything) AND because I wasn’t actually gambling (if you don’t count the stamp).  At least that’s how I rationalized it.  No money — no gambling.  Ruth and I were pretty poor — we could have used the money.

But after awhile I quit and it wasn’t because I couldn’t afford the stamps — I quit because I found myself hoping I’d win.  In fact, I dreamed of winning and spend quite a bit of time wondering what my life would be like if I finally had extra money.

And you have, too.  You’ve thought, “Hmmmm… 1 billion dollars which means maybe 1/2 a billion after taxes. So then 10% for church which leaves 450 million, and then I pay off the house which leaves $449,000,900, 102.24, and then I could buy those shoes I saw at DSW and maybe finally a decent set of kitchen knives.” So have I.  I’ve wondered how I would invest it, who I’d help out, and I’ve thought about leaving the little waitress at the NCFR a $10,000 tip.  Ever have that conversation about whether or not you’d quit your job?  Me, too. I’m a college professor, so I’ve fantasized about my employer suddenly becoming interested in me — President Porterfield taking me out to dinner and asking if I wouldn’t mind if they renamed the college after me (and fired a couple of my annoying colleagues).

I guess what I’m saying is, it’s not just a bit of harmless fun to spend your time fantasizing about becoming a gazillionaire, because if you fantasize about being a gazillionaire it seems you’re not being very appreciative for what you do have.  Put more harshly, if you dream of having vastly more wealth than God has already given you, you’re probably flirting with (if not making out with) envy and covetousness.

Of course, there are all those other reasons the lottery is bad (the government is stealing from the poor, lying about pretending to be concerned with education, cultivating gambling addiction, encouraging us all to think that hard work and thrift are old fashioned, etc.), but mostly for me, I don’t play the lottery because to do so would keep me from being thankful.  I mean, most of us have it pretty good, don’t we?  Even when Ruth and I were “poor,” we still had a car, a roof over our heads, pretty good eats, and enough money to go out once in awhile.

I want to be rich.  I do want to win 1.4 billion dollars.  I really do!  And so that’s why i don’t play the lottery.

(None of my colleagues are annoying.  Not enough to get fired, anyway.)


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