Opiate of the Big-Check Dreamers - OZY | A Modern Media Company

Opiate of the Big-Check Dreamers

Opiate of the Big-Check Dreamers

By Eugene S. Robinson


You have a greater chance of being struck by lighting than winning the lottery.

By Eugene S. Robinson

“Lottery,” derived from the Dutch word lot, or fate, is a game of chance for people who are very bad at math. It goes as far back as sometime between 205 and 187 BCE, first appearing in what is present-day China.

Nobody who knows anything about life ever plays this game. 

– a Russian-Israeli, three-card Monte hustler in Tel Aviv

And so went the public face of lotteries, from funding the first colonial settlements in America to raising money for schools in 2013 California. The private face — well, that’s a bit more nuanced and dispiriting. By creating the possibility of sudden upward mobility, are governments actually warding off the feelings of futility that might drive revolutions?

If so, it’s amazing that it works, as the odds are better that you’ll be struck by lightning (1 in 700,000) than win the Powerball (1 in 960,000 chance of winning the most basic form of the California lottery).Sprinkled throughout history and across cultures, the drawing of lots found its way into Ancient Greece, The Iliad and the decadent general merriment of Roman nobility. The first recorded use of lotteries as a way to fund public projects came under Augustus Caesar, who funneled lottery cash into repairs for Rome. And the prizes he offered to winners were just that: prizes. Cash didn’t enter the picture as a reward for winning a game of chance until 1444 in Sluis, a Dutch town, before spreading to what we now call Belgium, Holland and France.

Meaning you will never, ever win. If that really is the deal, why keep buying those tickets? I’ve got a few thoughts. Check it out.  

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