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We've just been through one of those media orgasms where all the news seems subordinate to one large story, in this case the gigantic lottery jackpot of more than half a billion dollars. We saw video of people lined up for hours just before the deadline so that they, too, could get a chance to become centi-millionaires. AFter the drawing, one winning family in Missouri owned up while another (in Arizona) chose to keep a low profile for the moment. The rest sighed and tore up the tickets.

This diary attempts to explain two phenomena: one, the fact that people will wait for hours for a shot at half a billion, but distain waiting in line for the usual piddling jackpot of only four or five million. The second has to do with the whole philosophy of the mega-jackpot.

I'll give it a small whirl after the hop.

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The explanation for the lines, IMO, is pretty simple. When the word gets out that nobody has won Power Ball or Mega Millions, some people figure, "If nobody else won it, it may be my turn." Logically, this ranks with the thinking that cow urine prevents baldness. Another school of thought holds that the more money the lottery offers, the better chance you have to get value for your money. If the prize is 100 million, your payoff odds are better than if the jackpot was "only" ten million. Well, that's theoretically correct, but the odds are still about one in seventy-five million. Does this mean that picking up a measly five million or so just isn't worth standing in line or is there a more basic explanation - greed?

Five million, even after taxes, could provide a pretty comfortable cushion for the rest of an average person's life. Even one million could pay off debts, form a nest egg and even pay for one of those 80" televisions that take up your whole wall. So why no major effort until you can buy a hundred of them and a castle to put them in? Maybe we're so conditioned by the school of "more" that millions have to come in dozens before they become meaningful.

Which brings me to the other half of greed - the system that builds the jackpot vertically instead of horizontally. For instance, when the jackpot grows to 500 million or so, try having five hundred jackpots of a million each instead of one huge, bigger-than-life hunk of cash. Evidence shows that huge jackpots often do great harm to the winners. "Friends" come out of the woodwork, scam artists arrive in hordes and even family members start bickering over the distribution that must happen when you croak. The more, the messier.
The explanation is obviously that the state lottery people think people are motivated not by need, but by greed. By building the single prize to incredible heights, folks who normally woudn't waste a dollar on a ticket suddenly get Trump-like visions when the numbers get close to the stratosphere. The Lottery Commission knows this. But what about you? Would five hundred million dollars change your life more than ten million? Then why not more prizes with smaller payouts?

Better yet, why not a lottery that splits the winnings with, say, wounded vets? Cancer victims? Abused children? I wonder, would the lines be as long? And what does it say about us?

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