Monday, March 05, 2007

Never Tell Me the Odds!

WINDY NIGHT TONIGHT. I am watching branches bend outside my window, obscuring the Christmas lights that decorate the new yoga studio across the street. I was almost blown bodily across the street when I disembarked from the train, and after I purchased a Mega Millions ticket on the way home, I stashed it carefully in my jacket pocket. It would not do to have a potential $355 million payoff ripped from my hot little hands by an errant gust.

I am not normally a lottery customer. When I see those scratch cards, I am reminded of the old saw of how lotteries are a tax on the ignorant, or at least of those ignorant of statistics. Two occasions lead me to take a plunge on the Mega Millions: job dissatisfaction and a high jackpot. When I've had a withering week of bullshit, the temptation to snag a ticket pops up, but I usually don't indulge it unless the top prize is over $100 million. With the lump sum option, something like $5 mil, after being chopped into the lump and savaged by taxes, it's barely enough to retire on. The barbarity of it!

It may sound hypocritical for a man who visits Las Vegas and plays poker to disparage another form of gambling. The reality is, you can choose not to play any hand, and sit there at the table paying blinds for hours, never risking money except on the highest-value starting hands. I have stood on the lottery-window line at the Hoboken train station, during a $200 million-plus frenzy, while some hapless dipshit at the front purchased well over 50 tickets, both for the Mega Millions and various Pick 3s and 4s, like some plunging policy player in 1940s Harlem. Another time, I purchased a ticket at a deli at which regular players stored their bet slips, with all their arcane combinations of numbers, in plastic sleeves at the deli and when these regulars entered, the clerk knew enough to grind out their tickets, in some cases as much as $20 worth.

One local lottery dealer gave me a fright when he mistook me for one of these degenerates. During a stretch in which both of my conditions were met, I played my numbers twice in a week. The agent returned my bet slip and ticket, and gave me one of these plastic sleeves. I reacted with bemusement until I realized he was mistaking me for someone who was going to pour large amounts of good coin into this game.

I am reminded of my friend Matt's attitude toward playing the lottery. He's well aware of the shitty odds, but when the prize gets huge, he'll spend a buck for a ticket. His reasoning is that few dollar expenditures will bring such a cheap and harmless thrill. Well put.

Snagging a ticket at this juncture does carry the remote — very remote — possibility that I will deliver my valediction on this job from a press conference next to a giant novelty check. That's a sweet concept to roll about one's mind. I've got no realistic thought that it might occur. The true dick move would be to wait until my severance had paid out, then drop the news on a curious public. Plenty of time to get a financial adviser, indemnity insurance, and lawyer cued up in case the lure of easy money draws the douchebags out of the woodwork. I'm sure some sort of charitable foundation would be in order, to manage a regular channel of cash to worthy causes. Certainly after investigating them to ensure that they're stand-up legit operations. (When I heard a big Powerball or Mega Millions winner declare, shortly after Hurricane Katrina, that she would donate money to the recovery efforts, I put the estimate on how much of that cash would make it to actual needy hands at something like 10%.)

Other than that, however, I envision myself following Peter Gibbons's program from Office Space and doing nothing.

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