Ticket to nowhere

Somebody just won £113m on the lottery this morning. It’s not me. I know this because I don’t buy a ticket, but evidently a lot of other people do, and it got me thinking. Lottery – good or bad?

What do you do with that kind of money if your numbers come up? To be sufficiently wealthy that you don’t have to worry about money and can do almost what you want in life is one thing, but £113m? It seems a gratuitous amount for one person – or even a small syndicate – to win. What are the possible effects on the winner?

It's a numbers game
It\’s a numbers game

We hear about lottery winners who fritter their winnings, hit rock bottom and wish they had never won. I’m sure there are also plenty of very happy, well adjusted winners but there will likely be other issues. Lots of “friends” you didn’t know you had are going to come out of the woodwork and plenty of people will be at hand to offer bad advice. What do you do with your life? Just turn up at work on Monday as if nothing has changed? If you are happy with life as it stands the money thing will probably present some obstacles in terms of other peoples behaviour towards you and the dynamic will change. The most interesting thing about you will be your fortune and it will be the opening line to many conversations. But what about the old Tim?! And do you really want to effectively retire at a young age? What do you do with your life and how do you forge new relationships? How do you re-define yourself?

After a honeymoon period of spending and adjusting to money-is-no-object living will come the realisation that you are still the same person you were before the win, just wealthier. Most of the problems you had before will persist. Depression sufferer? No change. Discordant relationship with a relative? No solution. Worried about the health of a friend? You could pay for their medical treatment but until we are able to defrost Walt Disney we are all the fragile subjects of nature’s whim.

It’s not so much the money but the mode of acquisition. People who have worked from nothing to earn millions understand the value of money and even if they got there with a degree of good fortune they undertook a journey to reach that wealth. There will have been times where they were faced with tough choices – remortgage the house to invest in the business, ostracise themselves to work the hours to further their career, etc. Others faced with the same decisions will consciously have chosen security and sociability ahead of potential wealth. Lottery winners skip this journey and cannot be naturally equipped to deal with the wider impact of the win.

And then there’s the concept of the lottery itself. Huge numbers of people spend a pound, fiver, tenner each week for virtually no return. Sure, but it’s harmless enough. Most people probably do it as a bit of fun. They can sit around the telly in the evening and dream of what might be for a few minutes before they tear up the ticket and head for the kettle. I’m not so sure. Think of the countless people who missed out on a win because they lost their ticket, changed their numbers and their previous numbers came up, or perhaps they want to stop buying a ticket but dare not for the same reason. Then there’s the problem of syndicates. You left the syndicate just before they won? Bad luck. You are a member of a syndicate but are a couple of weeks behind on paying your subs? I’ll take you to court for my share of the winnings. Many non-winners can face emotional turmoil in such circumstances, suffering depression, guilt, stress, broken relationships, deep unhappiness – and for what?

Balls
Balls

Who couldn’t use the £50, £100, £500 a year given to the lottery for something more constructive? Imagine instead channelling that money towards an annual magazine subscription, a day at the races, a spa break in 2 years time or a blow out trip to New York in 5 years time. Or how about if everyone in your neighbourhood channelled their combined annual lottery spend into local projects. Imagine the social transformation you could see on your own doorstep. Perhaps the time is right for the AntiLottery – a non-commercial not-for-profit initiative which sees your money spent within your own postcode on socially inclusive projects chosen by local people.

So is there any reason to buy a lottery ticket? You like a flutter? The chances of wining £113m were 76 million to 1 and I never understand why people flock to buy tickets on rollover week when the odds of a big win lengthen. Better if you must to buy the week after a large claim when it has quietened down and the jackpot is lower. Gamblers don’t do the national or Euro lottery because the odds are dreadful. Do the Irish national lottery or go to a casino where you know the odds and you might have some fun.

Famous two fingered logo
Famous two fingered logo

But Tim you are such a killjoy, it’s not about winning! Think about all of the good causes funded by the lottery. I’m not going to try and defend my bah-humbug mentality (you win) but I would seriously challenge the assertion that doing the lottery is in any way altruistic. Only 28% of your money goes towards “good causes” and you effectively have no say in what these causes are or where they are based. There is a strong argument that the government reduces their funding in some sectors and lets the lottery take some of the strain. Meanwhile the charity sector loses out on public donations that they might otherwise have received. So if it’s charity you are interested in you should give directly and cut out the middle men who take profit, tax and operating costs out of the pot and then decide on their choice of recipient, which may subsequently lose out on government funding as a result.

Would I like to win lots of money? Duh – of course! But it’s not a panacea. Be careful what you wish for. It could be you.