Chances are that you were buying Powerball lottery tickets last week upon the news that a $1.586 billion jackpot was available for the Wednesday, Jan. 13 lottery. Ticket sales reached a peak of $1.3 million per minute before the draw.
Three extremely lucky people - one in Florida, one in California and one in Tennessee - each won $528.8 million. The numbers 4, 8, 19, 27,34 and PB10 made them millionaires.
The same night, one person in California who didn't play the Powerball won $333 million. That would buy a heck of a nice mansion on the coast somewhere, a fleet of dreamy sports cars, a helicopter and pilot, an unlimited vacations and living high on the hog on interest alone.
The actual amount handed down is about 62 percent of the advertised amount if the winner opts for a lump-sum payment.
While some had hopes of "champagne dreams and caviar wishes," I didn't waste my time or money. I knew what the odds were.
The odds of winning the $1.586 billion Powerball jackpot was one in 292.2 million! It would probably like filling a huge warehouse with 292.2 million white ping pong balls with one red one. Your job is to dive in blindfolded and try to pick up the red ball. It would be like having someone pick a number between 1 and 292,200,000 and you randomly guessing what it is. Get the picture? Ain't happening, folks.
When I tell my Mom - an avid lottery player - that the odds are ridiculous, she doesn't want to hear me poo-poo the idea. She says I'm taking away her hope. I prefer to think I'm being realistic. True, if I don't play I can't win. But it's also true that you can't really win if you play. My Mom has yet to win anything more than a couple of dollars and she's been playing the California Lottery since it started in 1984 when 58 percent of the voters approved Prop. 37 to provide more money for schools without imposing extra taxes. It seems more like a tax on the poor. I shudder to think the amount of money she's paid out for tickets worth only a couple of scratch-offs here and there.
The same people who scoff at the reality of their slim odds of winning somehow don't pay attention to more sobering odds, such as dying from a meteorite impact. In case you're curious it's about one in 250,000. Those are much better odds of happening, yet how many people do you know you have been hit by one? Nobody goes around secretly wishing to be clobbered by a chunk of space but they'll spending hundreds of dollars and placing a lot of hope in striking it rich in a lottery where the odds are horrifically infinitesimally small.
Millions set themselves up for the big let-down.
Even more depressing is to know that someone from some major population center normally wins. That leaves Ceres out cold.
It's also rather disconcerting to know there are better odds of things happening are the bad things. For example, check out these odds of death based on category:
• The odds of an American dying from heart disease is one in 5;
• The odds of dying of cancer, one in five;
• by stroke, one in 23;
• by accidental injury, one in 36;
• in a car crash, one in 112;
• by suicide one in 121;
• by base jumping, one in 60;
• by falling down stairs, one in 1,884;
• by firearm assault, one in 358;
• by flood, one in 158,369;
• by lightning, one in 164,968;
• by an air travel accident, one in 20,000;
• and dying in an earthquake, one in 179,965.
Even the weird deaths - such as the one in 615,488 odds of dying in a fireworks accident - are much better than the one in 292.2 million odds you had of winning last week's Powerball.
Even if you won big, the government would keep nearly 40 percent in taxes and you'd lose a lot of friends and family members expecting a handout and maybe not getting one. Don't underestimate the power of jealousy and greed.
I don't discount the hope that $10 worth of lotto tickets could give someone. That kind of hope may be worth the price of a movie ticket. But far too many people pin their hopes on such odds instead of doing practical things that would make them rich. You'd have better odds of making money flipping houses and probably feel better about yourself.
That's where Americans should put their effort, not a false sense of hope in lotto windfalls. Just remember the odds, that's all I'm saying.
How do you feel? Let Jeff know by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org