One of my prior bosses had a saying about the lottery: “Jason, it’s like buying life insurance. I play the lottery because if I don’t--and all these a.h.’s [he meant this endearingly] around here win without me--I’d kill myself.”
The last two office environments in which I’ve worked have had lottery pools, and it seems everyone participates except me. My lack of participation seems to baffle, and almost offend, those around me. They can’t seem to understand why I’d risk not sharing in that big (potential) payoff.
Odds vary among the high-payoff lotteries in this country, but a nice average probability to win is around 1 in 125,000,000. With a jackpot of $100 million, a single ticket’s expected value is about $0.74. If your ticket costs $2.00, the net value of this transaction is -$1.26 (note the minus sign). Using these odds and ticket prices, the lottery’s jackpot would need to rise to over $250 million before you have a net positive transaction value.
Therefore, if you’re given a choice between lighting $2.00 on fire and playing the lottery, it is indeed better to play the lottery. But I’d wager that buying a piece of pizza, for example, is a better use of the money.
The pressure to participate in intra-office lottery pools reminds me of the pressure exerted by religious folk ‘encouraging’ non-believers to believe. It’s a fear of hell thing, and a strikingly similar argument that goes something like this:
You should [play the lottery/convert to my religion] because it [only costs $2.00/only takes a prayer] and the consequences include [having to slog away at this job after your coworkers all retire to somewhere tropical/going to hell].
Playing the lottery is a small but losing transaction. Just like small wins add up over time to fatten your bank account, small loses repeated faithfully over time add up to drain it. Further, communal lottery pools are almost a form of harassment. Although on the surface they appear harmless enough, these pools are strikingly similar to being shaken down for protection money. Pay up, or you’ll work here forever.
Pay up, or you’ll go to hell.