The unlucky “lucky ticket”

Hannah Sellers

If you have an enemy, buy them a lottery ticket. While that statement may seem counterintuitive, everyday people have ironically had their lives ruined from winning the lottery. A select few winners have become wealthy thanks to franchises like Powerball or Mega Millions, however, many have gone on to mistreat their newfound fortunes. The heartwarming news stories of poverty struck Americans receiving an oversized check celebrate lottery winners as some of the luckiest people in the country. Sadly, the dire fates of the winning ticket holders prove this dream to be a fallacy. 

An article by the Houston Press details the tragic story of Billy Bob Harrel Jr., who, in 1997, found himself $31,000,000 richer after “winning” the lottery. While Harrel perceived the fortune as a blessing, he soon found himself drowning in pools of misery caused by the devastating side effects. Plagued with phone calls from relatives, friends and strangers demanding money, Harrell was forced to change his phone number multiple times. The commotion caused stress in his family, and in the months after winning, Harrell transformed from a loving family man to a cold depressant. Not much later, Harrell’s wife divorced him and in the following year, Harrell took his own life. 

Not only do lotteries burden winners with overwhelming wealth, but they are arguably the most nefarious method for state governments to make money. According to the Journal of Gambling Studies, those in the bottom 20 percent of wealth spend the most money on lottery tickets. Additionally, a study released by Bankrate found that the lowest-income households in the United States spend an average of $412 on lottery tickets annually, nearly four times the $105 spent by the highest-income households. The money spent on tickets is unreasonable though. The probability of being killed by lightning is absurd: one in 2,320,000. However, the odds of winning the lottery are over 100 times lower; only one in every 292 million tickets are big winners. The poor are spending substantial amounts of their salaries to buy tickets despite the terribly low odds. 

This ill-advised spending can be attributed to excellent advertising by lottery franchises. Billboard ads featuring smiling families enjoying a lavish lifestyle promote a get-rich-quick mindset to captivate viewers. One California Mega Millions ad displays tropical islandseach one labeled as a room in a home supported by a tagline reading “Imagine what a buck could do.”  

When a lottery prize becomes shockingly large, people often find themselves daydreaming about exactly “what a buck could do” in their life, and go on to purchase a ticket to fulfill their fantasy. However, daydreaming is cut short thanks to the inherent corruption of lotteries. Between taking money from the impoverished to inadvertently overwhelming the winners with checks too sizable to manage, lotteries are anything but harmless.

Still, despite potential downfall, a fortune amassed by winning the lottery could significantly improve the life of a low-income family if managed well. A survey conducted by Gobankrates asked Americans what they would spend their earnings on if they won. The results found that about a third of Americans would use the money to pay off debts, while another fourth would share their wealth. Additionally, a study from the Journal of Gambling Studies concluded that “Contrary to popular belief, winners did not engage in lavish spending sprees and instead gave large amounts of their winnings to their children and their church.” The average United States citizen assumes they would responsibly manage their winnings and use the money to better both their lives as well as those of family and friends. Nevertheless, the lottery repeatedly proves to ruin lives, and the odds of winning are extremely low, making it more beneficial to not buy a ticket at all, rather than spending money on multiple. 

Next time an intriguing advertisement invites you to purchase a ticket, gently remind yourself of the damage lotteries do to winners. In the upcoming drawing for the California State Lottery, one lucky person could have a shot at winning over 253 million dollars. However, with all things considered, is that person really lucky?