As I am writing this, there is a lottery ticket sitting beside my computer. This Friday, should the seven numbers on the ticket match the seven numbers drawn at random, Karen and I will be approximately £50 million richer.*
Of course, our numbers will not be the ones to turn up, though we dare your imaginary powers-that-be to prove us wrong. I have known several people to call the lottery an “idiot tax”. A statistics professor I had in University called it a “tax on people who do not understand probability.”
I understand probability. I got an A in that professor’s class, and in the probability class I took the following year based on my enjoyment of the first class. Later, I dropped statistics and changed my major to pure mathematics because the subject was so dull it made me want to gouge out my own eyes.
But I understand it. The numbers on this ticket will not be drawn on Friday. I will have a little less money in my bank account next week than I do this week. This is fine.
I don’t play the lottery to win.
I play because of the annoying advertising that played on Canadian television during my adolescence:
This was the catchphrase used in the advertising for Canada’s national lottery. I ignored it at the time. But it clearly planted a seed. It took some time to grow, and to be recognised. But it’s a plant now.
Something happens when I buy a lottery ticket.
Every day I walk home, and every day my mind wanders while I walk. I compose blog articles in my head. I have imaginary arguments. I plan my next vacation. I wonder what I will buy Karen for her birthday. Lots and lots of thoughts.
The evening after buying a lottery ticket — and sometimes an extra evening or two aside — I imagine what I would do if I won. I just imagine.
If the draw is for £10 million, that can be divided into £200K a year until I die, leaving aside the wishy-washy world of investment earnings, inflation and life expectancy. What would I do with that money?
I imagine the home I would buy. The hat I would wear. The vacations I would take. I re-evaluate those previous thoughts about Karen’s birthday present. I think about Maggie’s education. I think about being in business class next time I fly home to see my family. I think about how I could help people by giving to charities.
None of it is extravagant. None of it would turn me into one of those cautionary tales: former lotto winner declares bankruptcy!. None of it is too much of a reach.
And I understand that I do not need a flash of luck, I do not need the right numbers to appear on Friday evening to achieve anything that the lottery would give me. All this is achievable with the application of hard work over time.
It inspires me to work harder, because I know my numbers are not coming up. It inspires me to roll up my sleeves and work towards achieving these things. It reminds me to be ready for the next time opportunity knocks, for it will be more subtle and demanding than £50 million being dropped in my lap out of nowhere.
Some people play the lottery because they think that they might win. For these people, it truly is an idiot tax.
More people play the lottery for the thrill they feel. Apparently most lottery winners keep playing after they have won — the thrill of the game must count for something.
I play the lottery, because every time I do, I dream. And I am reminded that my dreams can be achieved, even if they cannot be won.
The cost of a ticket does not seem a high price to pay.
*This assumes that nobody else has a ticket with these same numbers. We would be much richer, regardless.