Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Lottery Fever

The Powerball jackpot for tonight's drawing is at a new record, $340 million (if you take an annuity; if you want the cash up front, it's "only" $164 million). For those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, Powerball is a multi-state lottery, and like all lotteries in the U.S., it's a way for state governments to raise revenue without resorting to taxes. Generally speaking, I hate the concept of lotteries -- they're a regressive way to collect revenue, i.e., the poor pay more than the rich. I also hate the misrepresentations that have been told to get lotteries authorized. For example, I lived in Florida when the matter of having a lottery went to the ballot. Voters were told that the money was to be used for education, certainly a laudatory use of the revenue. And ever since the lottery measure was approved, all that money has indeed gone to education. Money, however, is fungible, which means that while all that money was earmarked for education, the state diverted money that previously would have gone toward education elsewhere. Consequently, where before the lottery 61% of general revenue went to education, now only 51% of general revenue goes to education.

Given my opinion on such things, it may come as a surprise that I bought lottery tickets for tonight's drawing. In fact, on two other occasions while the jackpot was growing to its current size, I also bought tickets. The fact that I didn't win either of those times tells me that I'm due to win tonight -- the odds, after all, are a highly likely 1 in 146.1 million. (Actually, given that the grand prize is over $160 million, and taking into account the other, smaller prizes, the expected return on a dollar in this drawing is over one dollar (though most of it will go to one or two individuals, and almost everyone else will get nothing)).

I explain these seemingly contradictory positions thusly. If I were given the opportunity to vote to rescind the lottery, I would do so in a heartbeat. That being said, the lottery is here, and is serving in lieu of a higher tax rate. Thus, by purchasing lottery tickets, I am in a sense paying my share of the tax bill. This is, of course, a rationalization -- what matters more to me is the entertainment value.

I can watch a movie for about $8 at the theatre, and that entertains me for about two hours, plus whatever time I take afterwards to contemplate it. From the time I purchased my lottery tickets on Monday, I've been thinking about what I might do with the money for a total time of more than two hours. It may not be a likely outcome, but it's more likely than finding an unclaimed $2 million on the sidewalk. These idle daydreams of course include quitting my job and lots of travel. After that, there are so many possibilities. How much do I donate to worthy charitable causes, and how much to worthy political causes? Do I purchase a brewpub or brewery and do my part to bring good beer into the world? Do I spend on several ideas, or do I spend on one, such as an attempt to buy D.C. United? How many houses do I purchase, and where? So many possibilities to give my daydreams life! (In a LOL coincidence, while I've been editing this paragraph, my Yahoo radio station started playing "Dreamer" by Supertramp.)

Never fear, however -- even if I do win, I plan to keep my blog going. Whether it'll make you gag, and whether I end up hiring someone to write it for me, however, are different matters.