Archived Story

Why do people buy lottery tickets?

Published 2:00pm Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Column: Tales from Exit 22

Many people dream of winning the lottery.

I dream of buying a lottery ticket.

I have never purchased a lottery ticket. I’m not opposed to lotteries. My wife complains that I over-analyze things, but I have charts and graphs that prove that false. To me, the lottery is a tax, albeit a voluntary one. I’m pleased when people are inclined to pay more than their share of taxes. I enjoy what our tax dollars provide.

After having a vivid dream in which I bought a lottery ticket that might have made me as rich as Croesus, I got out of bed.

I try to get up every morning.

The weather was amazing. Can it be spring without a winter? The morning was so nice and warm that I considered buying a hammock. I hoped that a hammock stretched between trees might combat the early warning signs of ambition that I’d been experiencing.

Winter without snow and spring without mud. The earth must have been knocked off its axis by Lindsey Lohan’s impaired driving.

I’m used to mud as deep as a presidential candidate’s pockets in the spring. I remember one spring when I spotted something moving down the road toward me while I was at the mailbox. First, I thought it was a muskrat. As it came closer, I saw that it was a battered felt hat. I picked it up and was surprised to find a man’s head under it.

“You’re in deep mud,” I said in a friendly manner.

“I’m fine,” he replied, “but I’m worried about my horse.”

Muddy boots don’t bring spring. Money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy lottery tickets. A winning ticket provides money that could be used not to buy happiness.

I often hear pessimism espoused, but I maintain that we are a nation of optimists. That explains the popularity of gambling. A lottery is an optional tax that people pay willingly. It’s a tax on hope.

In an era where we pay tomorrow’s prices on yesterday’s income, it could be argued that being able to buy a lottery ticket makes a person rich.

Studies have shown that lottery winners are no happier than people who became rich in other ways unless they were bothered by constipation. The greatest cure for constipation is to become a lottery winner.

I know I won’t win the lottery unless I buy a ticket, but I have the play-at-home lottery game. I put my money in a bank — piggy or community — and win an incremental lottery.

When I take group photos, I don’t say “cheese.” I say “lottery winners.” It super-sizes smiles. Pins and needles. Needles and pins. It’s a happy man who grins.

Are you a money fan? Of course, you are. Money is a national treasure. That’s why it’s called the United States Department of the Treasury. Being without money is like playing quarterback without a helmet. No matter how careful you are, you’re going to get hurt.

Winning the lottery is akin to finding a current magazine in a dentist’s waiting room. I’ve talked with a fellow who won a lottery. I don’t know how much he won, but it was a stupid amount of money. At the very least, quite a windfall. He seemed happy, but claimed to have been happy before he became rich, too. His friends said that he hadn’t changed other than putting new tires on his truck. He had named his truck so he couldn’t trade it off. It was good to hear that wealth had not changed him. As the Bible says, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”

I was heartened to read that one lottery winner gave all his winnings to Charity. It turned out that Charity was his wife. She became his ex-wife after her high school boyfriend, the quarterback who had dumped her on prom night, learned of her good fortune and resurfaced with a mouthful of sorry and a handful of flowers.

Lottery tickets are purchased because, like the White Queen in “Through the Looking-Glass,” we like to think of six impossible things before breakfast. Lottery tickets are purchased because Billy Preston sang, “Nothing from nothing leaves nothing.”

I’m somewhere between what I have and what I want. I’ve been thrilled by swell prizes in boxes of Cracker Jack, but winning a lottery might even surpass the excitement of finding a flip book or a plastic ring.

I remain unlikely to buy a lottery ticket.

But I can dream.


Hartland resident Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday.