I won Powerball. And why I’ll never play again.

You had to live under a rock in the last week to have missed the constant chatter about the record-breaking Powerball drawing this week of $1.586 billion.  With three jackpot winners, each will take home around $187 million after taxes with a lump sum pay out. That’s a lotta moolah.  Enough to sustain a family for generations, and even in perpetuity if invested correctly, spent wisely, and a worldwide financial collapse doesn’t occur at some point.


I actually bought a ticket this time for the first time ever. I was curious about the hype and what actually compels people to throw away money in large sums every week. So I went to the corner store on Wednesday afternoon. Asked for a ticket. Gave my $2 in cash. And walked out. Done. Easy. Too easy.

I remember seeing a disheveled man sitting with several manual entry forms (is that what they’re called?), hurriedly filling them in. I also remember the clerk saying with sadness in her voice that someone before me just spent $250 on tickets.

That night, I actually watched the 10pm evening news (1 hour before the numbers would be picked) and they did a masterful job of roping people into watching their entire broadcast and hyping up the drawing. They interviewed the mayor about a big business deal the city had secured that day but also asked if he would come to work the next day if he won. He said he would not. So we have a mayor of a major metropolitan city telling viewers he wouldn’t do the job he was elected to do if he won the lotto. Nice.

Right before the drawing, my husband and I had a brief “what would we do with the money conversation” in which we hashed out how much we would likely give away to charity at the beginning. Beyond that, we couldn’t come up with much and I suspect it’s because we knew there was statistically zero chance of us winning. But we did look up what we should do if we did win. Mark Cuban had some good advice.

A few minutes before the drawing, I remember rushing to find the ticket in my wallet. As though it would matter whether I knew the numbers immediately or a few minutes later. I can feel the fever beginning to come over me.

And finally, the winning numbers. I see one that matches - 4! And I have the Powerball number!  And… that’s it. Looking again. No more matches. My numbers didn’t change. How about one more check? Nope! My numbers still didn’t change.

I check the Powerball site to see if I’ve won anything and it’s $4. Oddly enough, if I only had one of the 5 numbers and no Powerball, the prize of $4 is the same. So I feel a little less like a winner.

So I’ve doubled my money on Powerball. That’s a 100% rate of return. But I’m not playing again. Let’s walk through my experience for reasons why.

1. It’s a poor tax.

The man that was sitting in the corner store filling out his tickets did not appear to have money to throw away on lotto. And yet there he was putting a lot of hope in winning something he will almost certainly not win. The government runs the lottery, hypes it up to people who are most on the edge of financial viability, and then turns around and taxes it at 39%, not including state and local taxes.  This MarketWatch article does a great job of gathering data to show just how bad the lotto is for the poor in this country.

2. It squashes human purpose.

Remember the mayor? He said he wouldn’t come to work. Does he hate his job? I don’t know. But if he thinks that winning the lotto will change his life overnight and fix whatever he doesn’t like about it, he’s wrong. Money is money. It’s a tool. It’s not a person, an emotion, or a new life. It can’t change who you are, fundamentally, as a person. If you think that “doing nothing” sounds great, you haven’t figured out who you are as a person. What drives you. Your reason to live. Winning overnight through chance rather than through work, sacrifice, and making choices about your path in life, is often a recipe for disaster for many lotto winners.

3. It’s a blackhole for real-life momentum.

It took me time go buy the ticket. To find out the numbers. To (sort of) dream about what I’d do with the money. Just imagine how much time and money are wasted by people who play the lotto all the time. What if you could spend that time and effort dreaming about your own business? Or gaining new skills? What if you spent your life living and dreaming in reality, and not in a fantasy? (Read my post Achieving your goals may start with a walk for an idea on how to start dreaming.)

I’ll take my $2 in winnings and call it a day. Financial independence is not found in false hope, but in making plan and executing on it.

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