Ed’s Note: For my EEOTPB readers who do not reside in the U.S. (and there are several of you), the Powerball is a shared, multi-state lottery. Due to the large number of participants, coupled with the astronomical odds against winning, the jackpots often reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars. Lottery Fever usually hits at around half a billion bucks – that’s when it really gets out of control.
As the Powerball jackpot once again inches toward the half-a-billion mark ($400,000 tonight, but who is counting at this point), I find myself drawn into the great lotto abyss from which there is no return (financial return that is). As I have watched lottery jackpots grow over the years, from pathetic little jackpots intended to give the average person with fifty cents or a dollar, a chance to win a couple hundred thousand, or even a million dollars, into the huge mega-bucks income generating machines that they are today, I can only wonder, what the hell happened? What has happened to the U.S.A? Have we all become so disillusioned with the American Dream (if there ever was a real American Dream), that now we stake our last shot, or at least our last $2 on what I call “the longest of long shots”…a bet on not just the three legged horse in the race, but the dead horse.
Several years ago, I was traveling through inner-city Philadelphia. Some days before, I’d read an editorial in the Philadelphia Inquirer that called out the tobacco and liquor industries for preying on the poor by shamelessly erecting billboards advertising cigarettes (billboard advertising of tobacco has since been banned), and top shelf liquor in low-income (impoverished) neighborhoods. As I drove through this area, I saw those same billboards, and I thought, “I cannot not agree more” – until I also happened to notice similar signage inviting participation in the state run lottery. Apparently, the State fleecing of the poor is not recognized as being in the same category of ‘fleecing’ as selling tobacco and alcohol to people who can ill afford it.
Granted, lottery tickets do not cause cancer, and they do not cause the array of social, as well as health problems that alcohol causes – but encouraging poor people to spend their meager funds on lottery tickets, is at best a social sin, inflicted upon them by what can only be called a greedy government.
Or so it seems to me.
So, I went searching for the odds of my winning tonight’s Powerball drawing. It was not hard to find: 1 in 175 million. That means little to me. Why…because I am not a big statistics guy. I’ve always had trouble with statistics, probably because I never did well in math in general, but I do respect statistics. I just always need a math whiz to interpret them for me. Therefore, because I am statistics challenged, I went searching for a way for me to get my arms around this big lotto stat. I found my answer. I had to look no further than Professor Robert Williams. Professor Williams is a professor of health sciences at the University of Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada. He is an expert in all forms of gambling, but most importantly, he is able, as few others can, to put 1 in 175 million into layman’s terms.
According to Professor Williams, if I walk into my local convenience store, and pick up a Powerball number selection card, I should be able to select six, random numbers, in about 10 seconds (I have tried it, and it does take about ten seconds). Those numbers will give me the 1 in 175,000,000 shot at the big jackpot. Now, if I want to increase my odds to that of a coin flip (even I know that is 50/50), here is what I have to do: I must continue to fill out six digit lotto cards every ten seconds 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, 365 days per year for the next 55 years. Provided I could afford to do so, I would greatly increase my odds of winning Powerball. Or, I might win tonight with my measly little $6 ticket…as they say…
“You never know…”
“You can’t win if you don’t play…”
“The odds go out the window when you hold the winning ticket…”