The Big What If?

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It is a thought-provoking question, and one often asked of others (and ourselves). What would you do if you won a million dollars? Or more?

It’s a question asked each week as I buy a lottery ticket. Actually I purchase several lottery tickets as part of little group at the office. Every week we pony up and buy a number of tickets for Friday’s big jackpot. We each chip in the equivalent of a half a ticket. It doesn’t seem like a lot of cash, but together it is more. It’s like anything else you do as a group; it has a greater impact (at least we hope).

As everybody puts their money on the table, there is always a wishful smile, and each of us utters one of those hopeful phrases like ‘maybe this time’, ‘cross your fingers’, ‘good luck to us, and of course the big ‘what if?’

We all know the chances are slim. The odds of winning a lottery are stacked against you.
Canadian statistics indicate the odds of winning are about one in 14 million. The odds of winning at least $15 million in the particular lottery we play are one in 28,633,528. And the chances decrease when the number of tickets sold increases. In the United States, where this week’s Powerball jackpot is an estimated $1.5 billion, the odds are one in 292 million. It’s not only astounding; it is somewhat humiliating to even think you, as an individual or small group, have any chance at all.

Technically, or realistically, the odds of us winning this week’s $50-million jackpot are unrealistically high — well past the odds of being killed by lightening or dying of flesh-eating disease — at more than one in 86,000,000.

That’s a lot of zeros, a whole lot of unlikely.

Still we try. It’s only three bucks, the price of a good latte or shot of mediocre whiskey. It’s worth that to us, individually and as a group, because pooling a few of our modest shekels, utilizing our communal power of positive thinking, gives us a chance to dream, albeit remotely, on the personal impact of a life-altering amount of money.

Somebody has to win all that cash, and maybe the stars will align just enough to let it be us. We’ve won a driblet or two along the way, some free tickets, and those $2, $5 or $10 prizes that come with having a few of the lucky numbers, but those winnings are ploughed back into tickets on the next week’s draw. We do it proudly, or with heightened optimism, like the prize money is somehow blessed. It does, incrementally, increase our chances, so even at those odds there is more hope.

Hope seems hard to come by, at times, in this uncertain economy. If a few bucks is going to buy me a little hope for the week, I’ll go without something like a muffin or magazine in favor of gaining something else. Even if it is just a little more hope.

After all, there is no point in hoping if you don’t buy into it. Like the lottery advertising says: You can’t win if you don’t play.

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