Lileks: Fewer winners, bigger jackpots is lottery formula

  • Article by: JAMES LILEKS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 14, 2013 - 5:14 PM
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During an interview with the Associated Press, Chad Cuneo displays Mega Millions lottery tickets he purchased at a newsstand Friday, Dec. 13, 2013, in Philadelphia.

Photo: Matt Rourke, Associated Press - Ap

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This week the folks who run the Mega Millions lottery explained why it’s become so popular:

They’ve made the game more popular by altering the odds. Now you have a smaller chance of winning. Before your chances of winning were equal to being hit by lightning at the same time you’d been struck by a meteor. Now your chances are equal to being hit by lightning while a meteor hits you at the moment you win the lottery.

Since there are fewer winners, the jackpot rolls over and over until it gets big enough to get your attention, which is around $400 million. People see a $200 million and think, well, you’ll probably split it, taxes, lump-sum, bottom line it’s maybe $25 million and change. Which is good, don’t get me wrong, but when people think “lottery money,” they imagine a private jet that’s on the runway 24/7 with the engines running and the TV constantly playing pay-per-view just in case you show up and say, “Paris, my good man.”

Big money appeals to the 12-year-old boy in every man: I will build a house in a volcano that has a Hooters and a swimming pool filled with Mountain Dew big enough for my submarine, and it’ll have lasers for shooting sharks, OK, but they’re robot sharks, so it’s cool.

Women think: “We could use the money to send all the nieces and nephews to a good school.”

Men: “As long as I have, like, six sharks. With distinct personalities.”

Let’s think big: a SIXTEEN BILLION DOLLAR LOTTO-RAMA.

Rules: You must match all 1,436 numbers, an element from the Periodic Table, one of 500 Babylonian cuneiforms, and one of the three Stooges. Try to imagine someone sitting on the edge of his chair, fists balled, chanting “Shemp! Shemp! C’mon, Shemp!” because he hit everything else.

“… and … it’s Shomp, who was a Stooge for one night when the comedy troupe needed a fill-in during a 1936 promotional tour of small-town theaters in Nebraska.”

Dang! So close! Next time!

Could the concept be applied to other businesses? Nah. It’s preposterous to deliver less and expect people to hand over millions. That only works with the lottery.

Say, are the Vikes playing today?

jlileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858

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