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Buying Mega Millions lottery tickets a strictly defensive act

Mar 22, 2006, 11:00 am

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Editorial / Opinion

By Mark Hare
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

Imagine how you'd feel if you came to work on a Monday morning and found the office empty.

Not because the company had down-sized to a department of one. But because you were the only one who said no to the office Mega Millions pool. Ten co-workers bought 20 tickets and won - don't be greedy - say, a mere $175 million. They took a lump sum and walked away with $6 million after taxes. And then they walked right out the door into retirement.

At 30, or 40, or 50, they're off the treadmill. They've said adios to the old grindstone. No more coming to the office every day. No more bad coffee from the 10-year-old communal Mr. Coffee. No more mortgage payments. No more worrying about college tuition. No more miles on the '88 Caravan.

They'll be cruising the Caribbean. You'll be cruising I-490, for another 20 years.

They'll be worrying about their investments; you'll be worrying that you'll never be able to retire.

You're still at your desk, alone amid a roomful of darkened cubicles, still staring at the photos of your kids and drinking the bad coffee.

For the rest of your life, you have to live with the fact that for $2 you could have joined your colleagues on Easy Street. But you said, "We'll never win" - words they'll put on your headstone.

Talk about scary thoughts.

This is why I'm always in the Mega Millions pool. I am completely aware that our chances are about one in a quadrillion. I do not expect to win. Obviously.

I hate state-sponsored games of chance as a matter of principle. The state should not promote gambling, knowing that some people who can barely afford it, will spend the kids' lunch money on the longest of long shots. Not to mention that some of those buyers are addicted to gambling.

I do not buy into the pool because I like to gamble. It is a purely defensive move. If my co-workers win, I don't want to be left behind. I buy just in case.

You no doubt saw the eight happy Nebraska meatpackers who shared the winning $365 million Powerball jackpot last month. Each of them kicked in $5; they bought 40 tickets, including the winner. After taxes, each of them received $15.5 million.

None of them had any real plans for the money, although People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals asked them to spend some of their fortunes providing shelter for pigs rescued from the slaughterhouse. The winners were supposed to feel guilty about their jobs.

One of the winners said he'll quit his job, get a business degree and buy some stuff for his wife and baby daughter. Another, a native of Vietnam, said he'd send some money back home.

"Everybody has dreams," said Mike Terpstra, a plant supervisor. "Buy an island. Buy an airplane. In reality, I'm not a fan of flying and don't really like water."

Nobody expects to win. So nobody really knows what they'd do with more money than they ever imagined.

Who knows how much lottery income derives directly from defensive office buy-ins?

Asked if employees who did not chip in might be resentful, Alain Maboussou, 26, said, "I don't think they have a reason to be jealous because when it's pool day, we ask people to put in five bucks, so if you wasn't there or didn't put in the five bucks, sorry."

Right. I'm sure there'd be no hard feelings.

If you believe that, go ahead and sit it out. Me? I'm not taking any chances.

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