March 30, 2012, - 6:09 pm

$640 Million Mega Millions: Did You Play the Poor Man’s Voluntary Tax Lottery?

By Debbie Schlussel

When my late father was alive, he’d occasionally buy Lotto, Powerball, or Mega Millions lottery tickets when the pot was very big.  He’d always note that the odds of winning are worse than your odds of getting struck by lightning multiple times.  But it was fun to play and dream.  He and his secretary, Lillian, would occasionally buy each other tickets as gifts.  So, my question to you is:  are you buying tickets in today’s Mega Million lottery?

Tonight, when the numbers are picked, your odds of winning are something like 176 million to one.  The chances you’ll win are beyond infinitesmally small. If my dad had invested lottery ticket money in Apple stock, he wouldn’t have the fun of dreaming and wishing.  But he’d have made a small fortune.  The mostly lower-class, working-class, and blue collar Americans who make up the vast majority of lottery ticket buyers would have made an even bigger fortune because many of them buy lottery tickets twice a week and more frequently.  They are the ones who can least afford to waste even a few dollars every week on this.  It adds up.  And they throw it away.  That’s why I call the lottery–especially these giant lotteries–the poor man’s voluntary tax.  That’s exactly what it is.  Don’t believe the hype that it is anything otherwise.

And, as I frequently point out on this site, even the few “lucky” people who do win that money are almost always visited upon by tragedy, disaster, and ruin in the aftermath. Think the lottery win made this scary couple into better people?


It’s great to win the money and be able to pay off bills.  We know that money is the source of most marital break-ups and discord.  And it takes a lot of stress off to be able to provide for yourself and  your family.  But it won’t cure you of cancer.

And there is no peace.

Everyone you know–or don’t know–will pressure you for money. Even your closest friends, unless they are already wealthy and even if they are, will pressure you to invest in their businesses and pipe dreams.  And it will never be enough. There will be a million new hangers-on.  You won’t know if any of your friends or romantic partners are there because they really, respectively, like and love you.  You are a prime target for gold diggers of all varieties, male and female.  And you’ll probably lose most of your friends from the past, whether out of jealousy or something else.  The money changes people–those who win it, and those around them who don’t.  And it severs solid relationships forever.

You are at risk for becoming a big spender and living beyond your means until there is nothing left.  And you’re at risk for not surviving.  There have already been at least three lottery winners who’ve been murdered, either by people seeking their lottery winnings . . . or in troubled circumstances you know in your heart would never happen to them if they had never won the lottery.  Relatives of other winners have died in tragic circumstances that wouldn’t have happened but for the money.  Is it worth it?  Nope.

Earlier this  year, I saw, “Lucky,” a fantastic documentary about lottery winners.  Every big lottery winner in the movie (except the Vietnamese immigrant family) was either now in dire straits  And even those who didn’t spend and lose everything felt that had to move and leave all of their friends because they felt the relationships had permanently changed for the worse.  The parents in a Michigan family that won big had to move the family to the country to give their kids–and themselves–a normal life away from constant beggaring.  After I praised the parents on my site, the father e-mailed to thank me and let me know that everyone in his family is still working very hard on the farm.  That’s the way to do it.  They clearly had the right values before they won.

To put the numbers of the lottery in perspective, USA Today reported that it would take the average American household 10,800 years to earn $540 million dollars (the earlier expected total of tonight’s lottery before it jumped to $640 million). And it takes the federal government only one hour and fifteen minutes to spend that much. But the best large fortunes are those that are earned, not instantly gained through a lottery or trust fund.  We appreciate the fruits of the sweat of our brow far more and are less likely to squander that.

But, despite all this, do you think I bought a ticket?  Of course, I did.

I tell myself it’s in tribute to and remembrance of my dad, Blessed Be His Memory, and that he would have bought one today.

But, deep down, it’s really because I’ve fallen for the group frenzy being broadcast all around me.  I don’t want to feel left out and like I missed out on that nearly impossible chance.

I like to dream, too . . . like everybody else.  Even if I know better.

Did you buy a ticket?  Why or why not?  What would you do if you won?

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26 Responses

I avoid them like the plague. Once one starts buying them, they are very addictive. Similarly, whenever I visit Vegas, I might play a few slot machines, but that’s it! Anything beyond that is out of the question.

If I’m going to blow cash for entertainment, I’d rather get something for it – be it a boat ride, a scuba dive, a massage, or whatever. Buying lotto tickets is like just giving away cash to store owners – for nothing.

Infidel on March 31, 2012 at 2:02 am

My husband did – like you, he figured that the small price was worth it for the dream. Funny story – we were VERY broke early in our marriage. My husband had a broken leg, and asked me to pick up lottery tickets when the prize hit 20 mill.

As I was leaving, he warned me NOT to set the money aside, and show it to him after the drawing, saying, “I saved you the money by not buying the ticket.” He asked, “Would you want to continue living with me if the numbers HAD come up?” He had a point.

Well, I did buy the tickets, and he hit enough numbers that we collected about $150 – which we BADLY needed at the time. I was glad I followed his advice.

But, no, I don’t gamble personally.

LindaF on March 31, 2012 at 7:45 am

“You can’t serve both god & mamon. Mamon being money”…..Pale Rider quote from Clint Eastwood.

Steve Epps on March 31, 2012 at 10:11 am

“Poor Man’s Voluntary Tax”

My first thought before I realized DS was talking about the lottery was that she was talking about cigarettes. Same thing. The majority of smokers are average income or lower, but the feds and the state get a big chunk of each pack sold.

Gambliing or cigarettes, either one reminds me of a movie line “… It’s like masturbating without the pay-off”.

CornCoLeo on March 31, 2012 at 10:53 am

    Also, known as the poor man’s retirement plan.

    myother on April 26, 2012 at 1:01 pm

@CornCoLeo…..your post is hilarious.

Steve Epps on March 31, 2012 at 11:41 am

DS, this was a fabulous post. You touched on all points and it’s important to remember ALL you said. Good stuff.

I hate the Lottery and avoid it like the plague and consider it a “stupid tax” when one pays it but did I buy a ticket? OF COURSE!

I am usually oblivious to Lottery mishagas but I’m working away from my town and my client asked me to pick her up one for her brother in Europe. I did and I got myself one too but then all of the sudden I kept hearing about the Lottery everywhere I went! I had no idea it was so big.

I bought one for the off chance that I may one of the winners but that’s it. I am mindful of all you wrote but it was important for me to read your take as it served as a sober reminder and brought up other points I did not know. (I am very anti-gambling not because I think I am above it but because I have respect for the siren song of it even though I know better. It’s scary when one thinks of the powerful force of gambling…even the ones who hate it are not immune!)

Of course I did not win but that’s ok. I think it may be worse for me to win so I am happy as things are. :D

Skunky on March 31, 2012 at 12:09 pm

I wouldn’t buy a lottery unless the odds are more in my favor. When I am in Las Vegas (for conference) when the odds are only
1 in 10 of my winning – I always lose. So what chance do I have with the lottery. I always believed my high school math teacher when he said 1/175,000,000 is essentially ZERO.

tim on March 31, 2012 at 8:30 pm

my congratulations debbie

no more precise definition
of the lottery is possible

you tell it like it is
you describe it for what it is

prestigio on March 31, 2012 at 9:21 pm

A tax on the poor is exactly right. We create tax rates that have created an underclass by exempting them from income taxes

Jumbo on March 31, 2012 at 10:55 pm

    Having a volunteer tax for the poor is the only reason to support the lottery. A few years back an accountant embezzled $200000 and used it or buy lottery tickets. His net return was around $2000.

    Jimbo on April 2, 2012 at 10:05 am

Say what you want about the lottery. It helps the schools. It helps CHILDREN.

I know it to be true because the government told me so!

There is NO Santa Claus on April 1, 2012 at 12:30 am

If you do get rich, bless G-d and thank him for your new found financial security and don’t let the wealth get to you or make you a different person. Some people let that happen and it ruins them like Debbie wrote. For others, it can mean freedom to serve G-d, to help their fellow man and to spend time with their family and friends. Its not what you have that counts but what you do with it. If G-d blessed me again with a great fortune, I would live my life simply and remember that in the end, the democracy of the grave is mankind’s great equalizer. We have nothing on this earth and its only what we have in our souls that we can take with us to the next life.

NormanF on April 1, 2012 at 1:07 am

What would I do if I won? I would buy freedom from people….

Dalton on April 1, 2012 at 5:07 am

I emptied my ashtray of loose change and bought a couple. Your dad was right. The odds are impossible-to-One. But…if I win you can bet DS.Com will be well taken care of. I haven’t even checked my ticket.

#1 Vato on April 1, 2012 at 5:14 am

If you have to wait in line for a half hour the ticket cost more than $1.00 There is the time value of money.

madman on April 1, 2012 at 9:37 am

Having been struck by lightning and several near misses that I felt does NOT qualify me to win the lottery = imaginary tax refund for people bad at math…
I felt a sense of pride when a news announcer mentioned Friday that “if you don’t have a ticket yet for the $640M Mega, you might be the last person in America”. After havdallah I found that my son-in-law hadn’t gotten one either, and felt even better, knowing there where at least two of us. Sure, the win would pay off bills, provide things for family we don’t have, but with everyone having multiple TVs, vehicles, computers, etc., what is it we really need? Learning to be satisfied rather than always feeling we need more might be a great place to start.

Skip on April 1, 2012 at 3:32 pm

thought about it, but the hubby had already donated ($5). Did the taxes instead. Now I’ll think about getting my highlights done and buying fleurs for the garden (promised myself I would not do these until the taxes were done). Somehow getting a lottery ticket didn’t seem worth the time spent…….I think I’ll scrub the bathroom after work tomorrow…..

cathy on April 1, 2012 at 9:26 pm

Hmmm…Well, I don’t tend to buy lottery tickets. I think I did so fewer than 5 times in my life, and not this one. If I won $200 million, I would be talking to the local University about how much money it would take to restart a full scale physics major at my local Minnesota State University. But otherwise…I tend to like my job; I’m well suited to it, and it pays me enough money that my wife and I can generally do what we like to do and still invest $50-$60 K a year for retirement while going on the occasional yearly fun vacation. In 10 years I should be a millionare regardless; by age 66 I will have a $100K/yr pension plus my investments anyway.

My focus is on preventing my daughter from being forced to wear a burqa rather than money. And for that, I am immensely grateful to Debbie.

Occam's Tool on April 2, 2012 at 12:33 am

Good article.

When I go into the convenience store at the gas station to buy a bag of chips sometimes on my way home, there is usually someone in line to buy a scratch off or real lottery type ticket. They clog up the line pondering over which scratch off or how many numbers they want to play.

So I and others in line are delayed.

They would be helping the economy if they bought a bag of chips like me. Instead they are giving the state of Florida millions of dollars that the state will gladly spend and more on stupid social programs. Many of the recipients of the programs may be those that play the lottery so some of the program money received from the state is being returned to the state via the lottery.

My father never bought anything on a loan. Never played any lottery, legal or illegal either. He paid cash only including the used cars he used to drive.

“The system” of government today including social programs, supported by excessive taxation of “the people” and brutal regulation of businesses that generate the income to support social programs would freak him out.

BTW I was hit by lightening once a long time ago.

Panhandle on April 2, 2012 at 12:13 pm

Since the poor pay no income tax I’m glad we have the lottery.
That way they pay a little bit more into the system.
They do pay sales tax and even if they rent they are paying into the property tax.

I will confess to paying a dollar into a lottery pool at work several times just because I didn’t want to be the idiot left behind if the group won and they all retired rich.

smg45acp on April 2, 2012 at 2:24 pm

If I won I would pay teh entire tax bill first then pay 20% to God then another 30% to qualified charities and outreaches. Then put the rest in gold and keep working after paying off teh house note. And probabaly take a nice two week vacation to Tahiti.

Bill Ford on April 2, 2012 at 3:44 pm

    “f I won I would pay teh entire tax bill first then pay 20% to God then another 30% to qualified charities and outreaches. Then put the rest in gold and keep working after paying off teh house note. And probabaly take a nice two week vacation to Tahiti.”

    Sounds like you are taking lump sum, not annual payments; assuming the 20% and 30% were based off of post-tax numbers:

    $640M jackpot would leave you with $325-360M lump sum after federal taxes depending on which state you live in. Give away half of that to charities and the church and you have $162M-$180M left.

    Paying off your house and a nice trip won’t likely make a dent in that, so disregarding. At 1643.85 per ounce of gold, and assuming that you trying to buy that much gold at once didn’t drive up the price much, you’d end up with a cube that was only about 1.7 feet on each side. :)

    Eric R on April 3, 2012 at 2:48 pm

No, I didn’t buy a ticket. I never win anything anyhow. :(

Also too:

Gambliing or cigarettes, either one reminds me of a movie line “… It’s like masturbating without the pay-off”.

Ha! Funniest thing I’ve read on a blog in ages! (es

Patrick AKA DetroitRight on twitter on April 3, 2012 at 2:27 am

Oops! Was supposed have added: especially on a blog run by a Woman!

Hit return too early. iPods and commenting is hard. ;)

Patrick AKA DetroitRight on twitter on April 3, 2012 at 2:29 am

It’s a voluntary tax that I will never play… I mean pay. And I will never have to file anything with the Internal Rectal Service. So it sounds good to me.

myother on April 26, 2012 at 1:18 pm

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