Why I’m Kind Of Glad I Didn’t Win The Powerball

one of many losing tickets

This was my first time buying a lottery ticket.

I didn’t even know I could get one at the bodega downstairs! I assumed they just had scratch-offs.

I played the powerball because, despite the odds being unfathomably low, the risk-to-reward ratio was mathematically justifiable. For those who don’t gamble, it’s simple math to calculate the odds and figure if you’re getting a worthy payout for your $2 “risk”.

You’ve likely played this game with friends: “would you do X for $100?” If the answer is no, that means X needs to be made less embarrassing / dangerous / whatever . Or, the $100 payout needs to be increased. Here X represents emotional or physical risk, so there’s no mathematical way to measure the soundness of your decision. Some may be willing to jump in the Hudson River in January for $100; some may not do it for a million.

But when the risk is a set monetary value (the cost of a powerball ticket); and the payout for the winner is a set number (the size of the jackpot); then you can calculate the soundness of your decision.

The way the Powerball works is that when there is a drawing with no jackpot winner, the money is rolled into a new jackpot. In other words, by buying a ticket for a chance at the jackpot, you are getting a chance to win some of the money that earlier buyers of Powerball tickets put in before their tickets expired worthless. […] The key intuition is that while you are still throwing away money when buying a lottery ticket, you are throwing away less in strictly economic terms when you buy into an unusually large Powerball jackpot.

– Neil Irwin, The Upshot

TL;DR I definitely wasn’t going to win, but I played anyway.

4 Reasons Why It May Not Be Great

1) Loss of Identity

You will always be that guy/girl who won the lottery. That’s it. No matter what you’ve accomplished; no matter how hard you’ve worked to get what you already had.

Been working on a book for three years? Better hope it was published already. Have an idea for an app or a new business? Your product better have been brought to market.

After you‘re handed a zillion dollars, nothing else you do will be taken seriously.

Because if you have a zillion dollars, you can publish a book whether it’s good or not. You can pay people to build your app. And if everything you accomplish is perceived as merely an extension of your wealth, it makes it very hard for that work to be respected or taken seriously.

2) Relationships

This is an obvious one. What do you do about that creepy uncle you’ve never really talked to? Surely you can spare at least 50K. How about that cousin with the newborn child? They could probably use some help.

You also have to make very decisive choices. If someone wants to become friends before you win the powerball, there’s no reason to consider ulterior motives. A new friend after winning a zillion dollars? yea…

What about that significant other you’ve only been with for a year? Chances are they really love you after you win the powerball. But did they really love you before? Did you really love them? Can you really expect to find someone else who will love you as much as this person loved you before you were you + a zillion dollars? What about that friend you only really saw on holidays? Do you fly them out on your personal helicopter to that private island you just bought?

The way I see it, there can be no middle ground. You have about a month to figure it all out then freeze everyone.

3) Generosity

Being generous is very hard to do when you have a zillion dollars. Bill Gates and Warren Buffet give away a majority of their fortunes, but no one talks about them as if they’re generous. They’re just better than those other rich assholes.

Think about it. Think about how high the bar is for generosity when you have a zillion fuckin’ dollars. Today, I get little kicks out of being generous. I like buying the first round; I like donating $10 to Wikipedia.

If you win a zillion dollars, you’d feel guilty not buying the whole bar a round. Or paying rent for that homeless guy at union square.

4) Lack of inspiration

Let’s be honest: money is a motivator. And it’s a validator. The American Dream is that if you’re good enough at something, or if you work hard enough at something, then you can make money from it. (Not always true, but I digress…).

If it was handed to you, that will always be an undeniable fact. I. did. not. earn. this. And as much as you say you “love your job”… you’ll probably quit.


Long story short, I’m okay with the fact that I didn’t win. It was essentially already a fact before the numbers were announced. I do, however, wish I had the chance to fill out my own numbers. This is what I planned to do — but when the cashier handed me a pre-baked ticket, I figured why tempt fate.

But my lucky number is 10, which happened to be the powerball number of last night’s drawing. That means I would have won $4. And that, to me, seems more manageable. I could have woke up today and had a coffee on the house, then gone to work like the rest of you.

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