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Opening Arguments

Help, I've been tipped

Man, these are some big numbers. The Mega Millions jackpot is at a record $540 million and counting. So even a lot of people who ordinarily don't buy lottery tickets are jumping in, despite the 1-in-175 million odds of winning the whole thing:


". . . To say I’m a skeptic, that’s an understatement. But it’s fun to have a horse in the race,” Colacioppo added. “Unless it’s a record (jackpot), I never do it. I think most people who regularly don’t play the lottery but who are playing this time just think: Oh, it’s a buck and everybody’s in it, and isn’t it exciting?”

So from a psychological view, what’s the tipping point that finally tempts folks who rarely jump into the lottery pool to take flying a leap? It is $300 million, $400 million, $500 million? Or, like Colacioppo said, is it when the jackpot hits a new record and the lottery becomes national news, becomes trendy?

“Your question is a good one. But alas, I am not aware of any study that actually tries to quantify the tipping point,” said Romel Mostafa, assistant professor of business, economics, and public policy at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario.

I think I can help the professor out, since I'm one of those rare players who get lured in once in a while. I buy a ticket on those occasions when the jackpot gets so big that it becomes a news story. That only makes me think about buying a ticket when I'm someplace that has them. It doesn't make me go out of the way to get one.

I have a complaint, by the way. All the stories I've seen about the jackpot are a little fast and loose when it comes to talking about the odds. Like this: “There’s a greater chance of me winning the Nobel Peace Prize." Or this:

Based on other U.S. averages, you’re about 8,000 times more likely to be murdered than to win the lottery, and about 20,000 times more likely to die in a car crash than hit the lucky numbers, Catalano said.

You shouldn't compare something that's merely random chance with something that depends on many contributing factors. Whether I win the Nobel Peach Prize isn't just a matter of calculating odds -- it depends on how I've lived my life, what the world situation is, what mood the prize awarders are in -- wwll, you get the idea.


Harl Delos
Fri, 03/30/2012 - 11:51am

If there is $540 million out there, and your odds are 1 in 175 million, that means the average $1 ticket has an expected payoff of $3.08.  Those who call the lottery a tax on stupidity have to think this lottery is an exception.

I don't know, though.  How would $540 million change my life in ways $100 million would not? 

I'd be better off buying a ticket with a $500,000 payoff and million-to-one odds.  That ticket has a value of 50c instead of $3.08, but it's 175 times as likely that I'd, and for the few years I have left, a half million is more than enough.

And as far as the "tax on stupidity" goes, the $1 that I might spend won't make won't make any difference in my life, but that $500,00 would.  Hmmm.  Maybe I ought to start buying lottery tickets.

But not for Mega Millions.  Your odds of winning are hardly improved by buying a ticket.