Jessie Raymond: A billion reasons to skip the lottery

In case you were wondering, I didn’t win the U.S. Powerball jackpot last night.
That’s no big surprise, given that the odds of winning were one in 292,201,338. The chances of me being attacked by a shark — in Vermont, yesterday — were exponentially higher.
But the main reason I didn’t win is that I didn’t play.
When a huge jackpot comes along, I usually buy a ticket, just in case. A few years ago, for instance, I went in with my officemates on a bunch of tickets. We didn’t win. (In retrospect, I shouldn’t have cleaned out my desk just before the drawing. I had to put everything back the next Monday morning, and the incident didn’t look good on my performance review.)
I’d hate to feel such disappointment again, but that’s not why I didn’t buy a ticket for Wednesday’s Powerball. It’s because the jackpot was $1.5 billion.
That’s too much.
It’s bad enough when someone wins a measly $200 million or so. They quit their job, buy a few extra houses and sports cars, travel on a private jet and light their cigars with $20 bills. Also, for some inexplicable reason they invariably buy a jet ski — it must be part of the lottery terms and conditions.
Sure, it sounds like paradise, but in a few years the winners end up divorced, broke, disillusioned and with yellow teeth (from the cigars). Too much money can destroy your perspective on what really matters in life, such as love, family and the satisfaction that comes from struggling to make ends meet, day after day, until you die.
If a couple hundred million can ruin your life, a billion would be even worse. You’d be overwhelmed with financial decisions and dazzled by the ability to buy anything you wanted without thinking. You’d be a target for kidnappers. And if everyone in the office decided to pitch in five bucks for a retirement gift for a co-worker, you’d look like a jerk if you didn’t offer to throw in at least a $20.
Of course, that implies that you’d still be working. As if. You always hear about people who say they love their jobs so much they’d never quit even if they won the lottery. “It’s not about the money,” they say. “My job gives me purpose, and without that, what else is there?” (See “private jet,” above.)
Would you move? You’d have to, because if you stayed in Addison County, you’d be answering your phone and your door a hundred times a day to individuals and organizations wanting money.
I guess you’d have a valet or someone to handle that stuff for you. But who wants their house all cluttered up with servants?
In some states, you can choose to remain anonymous. Good idea: Don’t tell anyone it was you who bought the winning ticket. Say you got the jet ski off Craigslist.
Unfortunately, I’d never be able to hide a secret like that. If I won and you asked me what was new, I’d try to be casual. “Not much,” I’d say. “The dog had to have a cyst removed. Oh, and also, I’m a billionaire now.”
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not against winning enormous sums of money. I just think once the billion-dollar mark is reached, the amount exceeds what the human brain can process.
Now, if the jackpot were $1 million, say, I could get my head around that. I’d put a third toward retirement, a third toward charity and a third toward living like a queen — which to me just means being able to eat out once a week without worrying about how to pay for groceries the rest of the month.
What I should have done, now that I think of it, was go in on Powerball tickets with 1,499 of my closest friends. That would have increased our odds of winning and, if we’d won, rewarded each of us with a life-changing — but not necessarily life-destroying — million dollars.
According to my calculations, if I had bought a single Powerball ticket, the likelihood of me winning would have been 0.0000000034223 percent. On the other hand, if a group of us had gotten together to buy 1,500 tickets, our chances would have increased to 0.00003935642485 percent — a difference of four decimal places.
Are you thinking what I’m thinking?
Exactly. If I’d let those numbers guide my decision-making yesterday, there’s a good chance a whole lot of us would have woken up millionaires today.

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