A Whole Lot of Nothing
By Andrew Frame

This weekend Lotto Powerball is offering a first prize of $34 Million.

I gave up buying tickets years ago. The chances of winning first division, let alone any one of these Powerball draws was simply too astronomical for me to waste my money on. You have a better chance of being trampled to death in your bed by a heard of stampeding elephants, in Antarctica, twice.

They never tell you just how little chance you have as part of the weekly televised draw. It would be an interesting figure to see as jackpots grew and hopes faded.

When you hand your hard-earned money over the Lotto counter, you are not buying a ticket, but a dream of a better life. There are far better and more proactive things that money could go towards than a piece of paper with numbers on it. Besides, I was always brought up to believe that “dreams are free”.

While everyone – rich, poor, young and old buys their Lotto tickets each week, I can’t help but feel the poorer segments of society, those who can least afford the steadily growing prices of tickets (from $5 many years ago to minimum figures in the tens and twenties today) are targeted the most … with the hope of a way out of their current troubles.

My suspicions were further raised with Lotto’s latest advertising campaign, in which a lost dog gives a winning ticket to a homeless man, transforming his lifestyle from begging for change and sleeping on park benches to mansions, designer clothes and a convertible Mercedes sportscar. Is it a sweet story of triumph over adversity, or something a little more subversive, subliminal and sinister?

Instead of one ridiculous prize of $34 Million at infinitesimal odds, why doesn’t Lotto guarantee 34 tickets will win $1million each? Why not guarantee 68 tickets will win $500,000, even? Just like the old “Golden Kiwi” tickets that guaranteed someone would win the grand prize every week. None of those prizes would be sniffed at. Any could buy a house, a car, a holiday, a future for a family. Lotto’s interests would still be covered, as ticket sales would doubtlessly increase with the guarantee of substantial winnings.

Or maybe the rules of Lotto should be changed so punters are required to meet some sort of means test before they can waste money on a ticket? Stop the egalitarian political correctness and make gambling the exclusive preserve of the idle rich! Society as a whole could well be better off for the change.

Editor: Actually the odds of winning the jackpot are 1 in 3.8 million, according to this analysis in the NZ Herald. By comparison, the chance of being struck by lightning is one in 280,000 in a year and of being killed in a car crash is one in 11,000.

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