Sunday, January 10, 2016

The Lottery Is the Mightiest Fairy In the World

I entered a convenience store in Joliet, Illinois. It was 1975. Some people in front of me were purchasing lottery tickets. When it was my turn to pay for my items the attendant asked, "Do you want to buy a lottery ticket, too?"

"No," I replied.

"Aww, come on! You could win the big jackpot!"


They pressed a little further. That's when I said, "Only fools play the lottery."

And a great silence came over the convenience store.

"Fool" here means: people who are ignorant of probability and statistics. "Fool" means someone who falls prey to the "Gambler's Fallacy."

I may be a fool, but not when it comes to the lottery. I have never played it, never bought one single ticket. Playing the lottery is throwing money away.

In 1842 Honoré de Balzac wrote:

"This mania, so generally condemned, has never been properly studied. No one has realized that it is the opium of the poor. Did not the lottery, the mightiest fairy in the world, work up magical hopes? The roll of the roulette wheel that made the gamblers glimpse masses of gold and delights did not last longer than a lightning flash; whereas the lottery spread the magnificent blaze of lightning over five whole days. Where is the social force today that, for forty sous, can make you happy for five days and bestow on you—at least in fancy—all the delights that civilization holds?" (La Rabouilleuse)

USA Today asked the question, "Is the lottery the new American Dream?" Probably. But by probability, it's as likely to happen as fairies landing on your head.