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Mega Millions odds worsen: Why do people believe they can win?

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  • Mega Millions odds worsen: Why do people believe they can win?



    It's the ultimate fantasy: Walk into a store, plunk down a dollar, and with nothing but luck — really extraordinary luck — you win a giant lottery. Suddenly, you're rich as a sultan with enough money to buy an NBA team or your own island.

    The odds of that happening, of course, are astronomical. But tell that to the optimists and dreamers across the country who lined up at gas stations, mini-marts and drug stores Monday for the last-minute buying frenzy in the Mega Millions jackpot. The $586 million prize — the fourth-largest in U.S. history — could grow by Tuesday night's drawing.

    So what drives people to play, and what makes them think their $1 investment— among the many, many millions — will bring staggering wealth?

    "It's the same question as to why do people gamble," said Stephen Goldbart, author of "Affluence Intelligence" and co-director of the Money, Meaning & Choices Institute in California. "It's a desire to improve your life in a way that's driven by fantasy. ... The bigger the fantasy, the tastier it gets."

    In a piece called "Lottery-itis!," Goldbart and co-author Joan DiFuria wrote on their blog last year on the Psychology Today website that in times of economic stress, playing the lottery is a way of coping with financial anxieties and uncertainty.

    "We may seek a magic pill to make us feel better," they wrote. "Ah yes, buy a lottery ticket. Feel again like you did when you were a child, having hope that a better day will come, that some big thing will happen that will make everything right, set the course on track. "

    The Mega Millions jackpot soared to $586 million on Monday, still short of the $656 million U.S. record set in a March 2012 drawing. The new huge prize stems from a major game revamp in October that dramatically reduced the odds of winning. The odds, which were 1 in 176 million, are now 1 in 259 million. Or as CNN noted, you're more likely to be hit by an asteroid than win.

    [....]

    The incredibly remote odds don't really sink in for people, says George Loewenstein, a professor of economics and psychology at Carnegie Mellon University who has researched the motives underlying lottery ticket purchases.

    "People don't really understand probabilities at all," he says. "Once you have a bunch of zeroes, it doesn't matter how many you have — one in 10,000, one in a million or one in a billion. ... People do understand the meaning of the word 'largest.' They overact to one dimension and underreact to the other."

    They also cling to a more romantic notion: Amazing things happen to others, so why not for me?

    "When people are desperately sick, there's always a part of the brain that thinks there will be a miracle cure," Loewenstein says. "If you want something to be true, your brain is awfully good at figuring out reasons, magical ones, that there's a good likelihood that it is true. The desire to win does drive a certain kind of frenzied optimism."
    I have a growing personal opposition to the lottery, both on moral and ethical grounds, as well as questioning whether this is a valid function of government.

    One thing this article doesn't cover is the tendency of these people playing the lottery to believe that if they buy more and more lottery tickets, basing it upon their own (incorrect) theory that if they just buy more tickets, they're increasing their odds, even though that's not statistically correct. Some people, though, simply will not be convinced that they're not doing themselves any favors by spending $40 on lottery tickets instead of $1 or $5. My second roommate in college was absolutely, positively, unwaveringly convinced that he could come up with some sort of mathematical way to "beat" the lottery. John flunked his statistics class that semester, unsurprisingly. But his irrational thinking is far from unique. I literally see it every day: the same people buying lottery tickets and buying more and more of them because they're just sure that if they spend another $15 on the lottery instead of saving what little money they have, that some day, their lottery ship will come in. And to a person, they rationalize this by saying "well, someone has to win!" They simply will not accept the obvious, undeniable fact that no, "someone" does not "have to" win at all. I'll point out that "someone" didn't win on the last ten or twelve or fifty or how ever many drawings, which is why PowerBall or MegaMillions or whatever is sky-high in the first place. Doesn't matter to these folks; they are absolutely convinced that this time there "has to be" a winner. I swear, it's almost like the battered woman who keeps going back to her abusive husband/boyfriend.

    When there was talk of bringing the lottery to Tennessee back when I was in college, I was somewhere between ambivalent to slightly favoring it, due to the promise of vast riches that would flow to the schools. We had warning, LOTS of warning, most especially from Georgia, that the supposed windfall for schools never really materializes, because what happens is that lots of people who have no business being in a four-year university get scholarships to four-year universities and then drop out after one or two years because they were not even close to being prepared for college-level work. But, the pro-lottery folks put on a hell of a sales pitch and swore that "this time it will be different," and I grudgingly eventually cast my "yes" vote for the lottery in the state referendum. Now I'm regretting that vote. Exactly what was predicted has happened: pawn shops with burglar bars on the windows have exploded across the land; there are actually homeless people who beg money on the streets, and then instead of going to get something to eat, they go buy lottery tickets; financial troubles, especially amongst the poor and those living on the margins, have mushroomed; lottery ticket sales are lop-sidedly weighted in the poorest areas of town. It really is a cruel tax upon the poor and the stupid. The ultimate irony is that the people that the lottery is allegedly there to help, the poor who just want to go to college, do not get that help even proportionate to the relatively better-off, and it's the poor who are funding all of this at the end of the day.

    I've said on more than a few occasions that the primary reason most poor people are poor is because they make poor choices, particularly financial choices. I feel more and more that a government entity helping those very people make those poor choices, encouraging them to do so, is probably not only morally wrong, put potentially counter to what a government should be doing at all. Adding to this the fact that almost everyone who wins some sizable lottery amount is either broke or dead within five years or less is just insult to injury, and perhaps the best proof that there is that the people who are playing the lottery are exactly who should not be playing the lottery in the first place: people who make poor financial decisions, now on steroids for those who win.

    I don't know if we could turn the lottery back out of the state at this point. I'm rather tempted, though, to push for legislation that would force lottery winners to engage in some manner of future financial planning with their winnings. It's pretty amazing, and rather appalling, that people who win lottery amounts that literally would set up their family to live very comfortably for generations to come can manage to so poorly handle that money that they wind up broke.
    It's been ten years since that lonely day I left you
    In the morning rain, smoking gun in hand
    Ten lonely years but how my heart, it still remembers
    Pray for me, momma, I'm a gypsy now

  • #2
    Lotteries are the sacraments in the church of capitalism. The faithful give up their offering, and a few are rewarded.
    Enjoy.

    Comment


    • #3
      $1 day long fantasy. Cheaper than a movie.


      But I have always had a rich fantasy life so it may not be for everyone.
      Colonel Vogel : What does the diary tell you that it doesn't tell us?

      Professor Henry Jones : It tells me, that goose-stepping morons like yourself should try *reading* books instead of *burning* them!

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by Norm dePlume View Post
        Lotteries are the sacraments in the church of capitalism. The faithful give up their offering, and a few are rewarded.
        You have a very strange, and very wrong, idea of what capitalism is.
        It's been ten years since that lonely day I left you
        In the morning rain, smoking gun in hand
        Ten lonely years but how my heart, it still remembers
        Pray for me, momma, I'm a gypsy now

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by Billy Jingo View Post
          $1 day long fantasy. Cheaper than a movie.


          But I have always had a rich fantasy life so it may not be for everyone.
          If it were just an occasional $1 for people who can afford it, then I would have no problem with it at all. The problem comes in when people who really can't even afford that $1 are instead buying $20 at a time, for some reason absolutely convinced that this time, their favorite nephew's birth date combined with the numbers that the psychic down the street told them would be a winner this time will somehow be the winning combination.
          It's been ten years since that lonely day I left you
          In the morning rain, smoking gun in hand
          Ten lonely years but how my heart, it still remembers
          Pray for me, momma, I'm a gypsy now

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by Adam View Post
            You have a very strange, and very wrong, idea of what capitalism is.
            My opinion of capitalism worship should not be confused with my opinion of capitalism.
            Enjoy.

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by Norm dePlume View Post
              My opinion of capitalism worship should not be confused with my opinion of capitalism.
              You have a very strange, and very wrong, belief that anyone worships capitalism.
              It's been ten years since that lonely day I left you
              In the morning rain, smoking gun in hand
              Ten lonely years but how my heart, it still remembers
              Pray for me, momma, I'm a gypsy now

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by Adam View Post
                You have a very strange, and very wrong, belief that anyone worships capitalism.
                I'm pretty sure you were just describing an act of faith about two posts back.
                Enjoy.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Norm dePlume View Post
                  I'm pretty sure you were just describing an act of faith about two posts back.
                  What? You mean the "act of faith" in buying a lottery ticket?
                  It's been ten years since that lonely day I left you
                  In the morning rain, smoking gun in hand
                  Ten lonely years but how my heart, it still remembers
                  Pray for me, momma, I'm a gypsy now

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Adam View Post
                    If it were just an occasional $1 for people who can afford it, then I would have no problem with it at all. The problem comes in when people who really can't even afford that $1 are instead buying $20 at a time, for some reason absolutely convinced that this time, their favorite nephew's birth date combined with the numbers that the psychic down the street told them would be a winner this time will somehow be the winning combination.
                    Just like beer, I suppose.
                    Colonel Vogel : What does the diary tell you that it doesn't tell us?

                    Professor Henry Jones : It tells me, that goose-stepping morons like yourself should try *reading* books instead of *burning* them!

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Adam View Post
                      What? You mean the "act of faith" in buying a lottery ticket?
                      Yep. Did you miss it earlier when I said "The faithful give up their offering"?
                      Enjoy.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Billy Jingo View Post
                        Just like beer, I suppose.
                        I don't think anyone buys a 12-pack in hopes that overnight, it will multiply into an entire, endless brewery in their fridge.
                        It's been ten years since that lonely day I left you
                        In the morning rain, smoking gun in hand
                        Ten lonely years but how my heart, it still remembers
                        Pray for me, momma, I'm a gypsy now

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Norm dePlume View Post
                          Yep. Did you miss it earlier when I said "The faithful give up their offering"?
                          And this is what you think capitalism is. Or your so-called worship of capitalism. I see. People buying lottery tickets from the state government is "worship of capitalism." Riiiiight.

                          So, you're just making up ludicrous arguments because you want to make up ludicrous arguments. Got it.
                          It's been ten years since that lonely day I left you
                          In the morning rain, smoking gun in hand
                          Ten lonely years but how my heart, it still remembers
                          Pray for me, momma, I'm a gypsy now

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Adam View Post
                            I don't think anyone buys a 12-pack in hopes that overnight, it will multiply into an entire, endless brewery in their fridge.


                            I was just thinking of the moderation thing. Obviously, any vice can be abused.
                            Colonel Vogel : What does the diary tell you that it doesn't tell us?

                            Professor Henry Jones : It tells me, that goose-stepping morons like yourself should try *reading* books instead of *burning* them!

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Billy Jingo View Post
                              I was just thinking of the moderation thing. Obviously, any vice can be abused.
                              True, that.

                              I personally see the lottery as a bit more insidious than that. You take a bunch of people who otherwise would never go and blow their money at a horse track, but that same bunch of people, at the state's urging, goes and blows their money, one dollar at a time, on something that it is almost cosmically certain they will never win. People would be appalled at the idea of the state of Oklahoma setting up state-run roulette tables, but they don't seem to mind the far, far worse odds of the lottery.
                              It's been ten years since that lonely day I left you
                              In the morning rain, smoking gun in hand
                              Ten lonely years but how my heart, it still remembers
                              Pray for me, momma, I'm a gypsy now

                              Comment

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