Methuselah & The Lottery Ticket

The lottery winners hail from Arizona and Missouri. They’ll be splitting a $550,000,000 jackpot — probably choosing the lump sum payout, with proceeds to both of them estimated at $200,000,000. The event is inescapable on the news and it’s ubiquitous in all forms of media.

But it comes at a gut-wrenching expense. The reality is that it’s a tax (75-80% of all lottery proceeds go to the lottery crack dealers who skim some off the top and dole out the balance to government accounts.) A friend shared an observation this morning that as he bought a ticket for the fun of it last night near Philadelphia, two ladies clothed in rags — potentially homeless — skipped at least one meal to purchase $40 worth of lottery tickets. To me, that qualifies as a gut-wrenching tax.

Let’s compare the prospect of netting a winning lottery ticket to sitting down at the roulette wheel. You place your $2 wager on black. 18 of the squares are black, 18 of the squares are red and two are green. You get double your money if a black square is the result. There is a 47.4% chance of black (18/38) with every spin of the wheel. (There’s a 52.6% chance that your $2 will vanish — on every spin.)

No problem. Spin. Black! You now have $4. “Let it ride!” How many spins would it take to reach $550,000,000? You would need to “hit” black 28 times in a row to reach the Lotto payout. Now that doesn’t sound so bad. It’d be like flipping a coin, hoping for heads 28 times in a row. How long, on average, would it take to be successful? With a spin of the wheel every sixty seconds, the average roulette champion would need 2276.43 years to come up “black” 28 times in a row.

I’m thinking Methuselah had better things to do for approximately 2000 years.

But it gets worse. Every two minutes or so, you’re going to hear “red” or “green” and your pile of winnings is going to vaporize. You’d need a fresh $2 to start over. So Methuselah ends up not only bored, but with some seriously empty pockets.

Incidentally, by the time the average wheel spinner is successful, those $2 refreshers would add up to $629,784,804 — rather defeating the purpose of pursuing $550,000,000 in the first place.

Sure … somebody could sit down and experience 28 straight “black” results and do so on their very first try. It’s possible. We call those people lottery winners.

Maybe they can track down Methuselah and see if they can’t fund a few $2 rounds?

By the way, $2 invested in Select Comfort (SCSS) on 12/19/2008 is now worth $283. ($1000 invested would now be worth $141,316!) From $2 to $283 in a little less than four years. I think Methuselah would be far better served hanging around with a community of like-minded long-term investors, many of whom refrain from buying lottery tickets.

I’m not a curmudgeon (at least not very often) and I enjoy recreation as much as the rest of you. And I understand the part about “free country.” But in the final analysis — our nation simply ought to be ashamed of itself.

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