Life is a lottery, right?

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Nury Vittachi on the virtues of buying lottery tickets.

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As an upstanding and responsible father (compared to some), I refuse to buy lottery tickets on principle. But I still reserve the right to feel cheated when someone else wins. (Hey, you want logic, buy a calculator.)

Mind you, if I ever did win some big jackpot, I wouldn’t change: I’d still be a bit of an annoying jerk, but I’d be one from my Learjet.

Lotteries are on my mind after listening to a shy but irritatingly nice reader whom I shall call Mr Goody. He believes that a recent spate of news reports about lottery winners contain A Message To Humanity. Consider the following.

True story: A man who won a fortune on a lottery spent some of it on a medical check-up. The doctor congratulated him on his winnings – and told him he had only a few weeks to live. The winner went home, hugged his family members and died. That sounds like an urban legend, but it’s a news report about a New York guy named Donald Savastano. His funeral took place recently.

“It’s impossible not to see a lesson there about what’s really important in life, right?”

said Mr Goody.

“Not money or length of days, but the love of your family, right?”

Hmm. Being a bit of a skeptic, I reserved judgment, but he forwarded me another story also from a recent news report. A woman named Oksana Zaharov, 46, tried to buy a US$1 lottery ticket but was mistakenly given a US$10 ticket. Not wanting to inconvenience the shop staffer, she paid the higher price — and won a fortune.

“See how the Universe rewarded her for being nice?”

Mr Goody said.

I asked contacts for comments. A Delhi correspondent forwarded me a 2016 story about a young labourer from West Bengal who managed to find a day’s work in South India and spent some of his earnings to help a disabled lottery ticket salesman. His ticket turned out to be so valuable that he raced to the police station in Kerala and refused to come out for two days.

My Indonesian correspondent was more skeptical.

“Lotteries give you a one in 100 million chance of not going to work tomorrow. A night out with your buddies gives you a one in four chance of not going to work tomorrow,”

he said.

Good point. I like his thinking.

Still. It’s a funny thing to think about.

I know loads of people who say that they’d quit their jobs if they won the lottery, but I wouldn’t. Surely it would be WAY more fun to stay at work and misbehave all the time?

A colleague known for his skepticism sneered at my choice of topic.

“More than 99.999 per cent of lottery transactions are worthless bits of paper being exchanged for actual money,”

he said.

“Buyers get nothing but the questionable ‘joy’ of playing the game and choosing their own numbers.”

Right on cue, a company called Jackpot Dotcom sent out a press release saying it has set up a subscription service. Lottery firms get buyers’ cash automatically every month, and buyers don’t even get the pleasure of playing the game and choosing their own numbers. I’d never sign up for something so idiotic. (But I’ll still feel cheated to read about the winners.)

I’ll give the last word to Mr Goody, who I secretly like:

“I always wanted to win the lottery but one day I looked around at my beautiful family and realised that I already had.”


This article appeared in Playtimes March Issue 2018.

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