Dreaming of winning the lottery? It’s a No-win bet!

This article was written by Joe, a financial counselor, has been a newspaper money columnist for nearly three years. He started his blog, Personal Finance By The Book, in July, 2009.

winning the lottery is a losing betPlaying the Lottery is a No-Win Bet

The Tortoise and the Haire All Over Again

A few months ago I watched a TV “reality” show which featured various lottery winners and the story book lives they live. Each family had left their old jobs and was now able to pursue their passions and live a life of luxury. They had paid-for mansions, horse farms and condos. Their marriages were better than they had ever been. Winning the lottery had evidently made all of their dreams come true.

I didn’t actually watch the entire show because this misrepresentation of Lottery winners started turning my stomach. “Is this a Lotto infomercial?” I wondered. “Are these people for real?” I can think of three possible answers:

  1. They are actors; therefore the reality is unreal.
  2. They are so new at handling their riches that they have yet to experience the downside of new wealth.
  3. Everything on the show was true, but these people are the only ones the producers could find who actually benefited from winning the lottery. Hmmm. Maybe this is why I have never seen this program again: no more contestants.

Am I some kind of prude who looks down on those who play lotteries? Not really. But if you spend your hard earned money on lottery tickets, I have a word for you: “Wake up. Even if you win, you lose!”

Most lottery winners become bankrupt

Let me explain. A survey by “Associated Content” indicates that 90% of lottery winners become bankrupt after 10 years. Why? Because if they had trouble managing their previous incomes, they were totally out of their elements trying to manage a lot of money. Furthermore, the divorce rate of lottery winners is substantially greater than those who don’t win. Why? Because great sums of money will magnify the character traits (good or bad) that a person already has. A mere thought of immorality somehow explodes into reality with great unexpected wealth.

Other downsides of winning the lottery:

  • You will hear from all manner of con-men who are trying to “help you”
  • You won’t know who you can trust.
  • Mere acquaintances will suddenly want to become good friends.
  • You don’t know who your true friends are.
  • You quit your job and miss the friendships of your former co-workers.
  • You move into a mansion and miss your former friends and neighbors.
  • You become bored.
  • You and your spouse fight about what to do with the money.
  • You will hear from relatives you didn’t know you had.

If you are a lottery player, you might be thinking, “None of these things would ever happen to me.” Right, because you don’t have a chance of winning anyway. Not really. With the odds of winning the Powerball jackpot at 1 in 146,000,000, you would need to buy a ticket every minute of every day for 278 years to just have an even chance of winning.

The lottery is a losing bet

So, win or lose, playing the Lottery is a losing bet. However, the real issue here is not the Lottery; it is the get rich quick mindset. Remember the story of the tortoise and the haire? The tortoise (slow and steady) wins every time. And you will too if you decide to start investing the money you now use to buy lottery tickets with. Only $10 a week in a good mutual fund should grow to at least $400,000 over a normal working lifetime.

“Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it.” – Pro 13:11

You have a choice: throw your money away at a no-win bet or invest it a little at a time and build a certain nest egg. Are you a tortoise or a haire?

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18 Comments
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  1. I can’t help but wonder about the 10% who don’t go bankrupt. I’m a believer in “The millionaire next door” philosophy, and suspect those 10% are among the winners who are the same, just taking that money, paying off all debt and investing it. There’s clearly a difference between a $3M winner ($150K/yr before tax) and a $100M winner ($5M/yr). But either one needs to be aware of the difference between living above your means and being prudent.
    This is similar to the stories we hear of Athletes who manage to spend more than they earn and given their short careers manage to blow their earnings.

  2. What if you simply bought an annuity with the winnings (or didn’t take the lump sum option). This way you wouldn’t be getting money hastily.

    Also 1 in 146,000,000 is still a chance… it’s not as good of one as buying every minute for 278 years, but it’s still a chance.

    Oh and the lottery funds generally go to help out the state you reside in… so there’s at least a win for the community (even if not a personal one).

  3. You don’t provide much detail in your mutual fund scenario, but consider: If a “normal working lifetime” is 40 years, then putting ten bucks per week ($520/yr) into the mutual fund and ending up with 400,000 requires a geometric rate of return of 11.61%, assuming annual compounding. A geometric return (not just an average annual return, which tells you nothing about how much money you made) that high over forty years would require a pretty good mutual fund indeed. Most people are not at all clear on the practical differences between average annual return (around 10.5% for the S&P 500 over long periods) and geometric return, and the net result is that people tend to vastly overestimate how much money they’re going to accumulate.

    Also, there are no market-oriented investments that can promise a “certain” nest egg.

    Still, the premise of the article is a good one. Gambling is not a rational or scriptural way to plan your future.

  4. John,

    Thanks for the comment. Yes, I might have been a little over zealous in my desire to make a point…I figured a 10% annual return over a 45 year (age 20-65) “normal working lifetime”.

    Joe

  5. Good post. Personally, I think the reason why most lottery winners go bankrupt is not so much that they were bad with money previous to winning because to me that is a symptom.

    I think the real issue is that many of these folks are trying to find ultimate joy and treasure in something that wasn’t designed to give them ultimate joy and treasure.

    We all want happiness, success, joy and an abundant life, but what we fail to realize (myself included over and over again) is that Jesus is the Ultimate Treasure! God designed us to be most satisfied in Him, not with “stuff”.

    I wrote much more about this in my post “Wouldn’t It Be Nice to Win the Lottery?” http://bit.ly/Myjcu

  6. Joe Taxpayer,

    Good point…I wonder about those 10% too. I too am a believer in “the millionaire next door philosophy”, but isn’t that a philosopy of the turtle, not the haire. Hopefully those 10% are wise and frugal about their winnings. I have trouble imagining haires being wise and frugal but surely it happens.

  7. Jason,

    I read your post…very well done! I agree that these bankruptcies are a symptom of a deeper problem. Jesus is indeed the Ultimate Treasure. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could always maintain that mindset? With me, I seem to do pretty well at knowing my true source of joy, but then I drift toward thinking something I don’t have is just what I need. Silly me…it never is.

    Joe

  8. Thanks Joe, I am right there with you…it’s easy to drift. And thus the battle to fight for joy and finding Jesus as the Ultimate Treasure rages on! Looking forward to the day when the battle ceases, but for now we keep pressing on towards the goal!

  9. If I win, I will probably be in the 10% that don’t become bankrupt. (crosses fingers).

    I think it’s just human to attempt to get what they don’t really work hard for? Just like the people who get scammed over the internet?

  10. Bob, this is a thoughtful and highly contrarian take on a popular gambling scheme.

    I’ve heard the lottery described as “the poor mans dream”. While I can appreciate the concept behind that, it seems it might be counterproductive for a poor person to put any stock in winning the lottery, as though it’s somehow THE ticket to a better life.

    If you put your hope in that notion, it could keep you from taking more constructive steps, with a far greater likelihood of accomplishing them.

    Also, I used to work with someone who was at the tail end of the 20 year lottery payout. They weren’t in financial difficulty that I was aware, but I do know that they were worried about when the checks stopped, and both were working even late in life.

  11. Kevin,

    Well said! The idea of putting hope in a notion of “get rich quick”, whether lottery or a risky investment, could indeed keep a person from taking more constructive and viable steps. Slow and steady is the best path to take.

  12. My friends and family can come visit me at my new place! If they get an attitude than poof pow be gone!

  13. I think people shouldn’t be carried away. While it is true that there are perils to suddenly winning the lottery. It still depends on the person. Money is money. It is the person that will direct it.

    • You will hear from all manner of con-men who are trying to “help you” (I am very good at ignoring people who I don’t want to talk to.)
    • You won’t know who you can trust. (I trust very few people in the first place.)
    • Mere acquaintances will suddenly want to become good friends. (I never consider mere acquaintances as good friends. If they are not my friends before I had money, they will not suddenly become my friends after I have my money.)
    • You don’t know who your true friends are. (I know who my true friends are. And they are not around me.)
    • You quit your job and miss the friendships of your former co-workers. (I won’t miss backbiting co-workers)
    • You move into a mansion and miss your former friends and neighbors. (I don’t know my neighbors.)
    • You become bored. (I have so many things I want to do so I will never be bored.)
    • You and your spouse fight about what to do with the money. (I don’t have a spouse. If I win as a single, he will not have a say on what I do with it.)
    • You will hear from relatives you didn’t know you had. (I don’t pay attention to relatives that I never know.)

  14. I’ve been asking God and Jesus to help me win the lottery for a long time and never won I think God and Jesus don’t want you to ask for that so if you do win you won’t feel guilty about how you spend your winnings they would hope that you would help others like a true christian but, they already know what you would do the money anyway so if you are not going to use it for good they won’t let you win but, they won’t stop you from winning either. I would do the right thing as in helping others and not myself but, I would at least keep a million and live off the interest while with the rest I would be helping others. One day I feel I will when but, I will stop asking for God and Jesus’s help and just keeping praying for the most important things like making it into heaven and pray for others too.

  15. Chad,
    Just curious: you said that if you win the lottery you will help others. Are you doing that now?

  16. Great Post.

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