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Daniel Ruth

A plate of futility with a dash of hope

What do odds of 1 in 195-million mean?

Well, let's put it this way. You have about as much chance of winning the Powerball multistate lottery game as Hugh Hefner does getting elected pope, Mr. Ed winning the Triple Crown, or had he been able to run, George W. Bush winning a third term.

And yet since the Powerball game was expanded to Florida millions of people have bought the lottery tickets, which now makes it possible for all these folks to lose money on an even grander scale.

Wait a minute! Do you hear that? Why that's the spiral of silence coming from Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum, who has reacted to the very notion of the Seminole Indian Tribe offering expanded gambling at its casinos with all the dithering hand-wringing of Frances Willard of the Women's Christian Temperance Union eyeing a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue.

And yet the state has just embraced what is nothing more than the mother of all bolita games, which would make the mob drool with envy, and we hear precious little in the way of outrage, moral posturing or sanctimonious breast-beating from the Church Lady of the Apalachee Parkway.

Florida is now one of 30 states participating in Powerball, which usually begins with a jackpot of about $40-million and rose this week to more than $100-million.

Indeed, you may have noticed in your Sunday paper a detailed insert describing the new game, how to play it and the myriad ways you too can join tens of millions of your fellow countrymen in losing your money faster than investing with Bernie Madoff.

Powerball works this way: You pick five numbers from one to 59 based on inane stuff like birthdays, or your mother-in-law's age divided by three, with one more special Powerball number from one to 39. Then you come up bupkes and do it all over again the next time.

You'd have a better chance of getting lucky with Angelina Jolie.

The irony, of course, is if you are a poker player out at the Seminole casino you have greater control over your gaming fate by deciding for yourself how much to bet, when to call, when to raise — and when to fold. But since Florida entered the Powerball community, thus expanding the universe of players, the odds of winning have risen from 1 in 146-million to 1 in 195-million, which is about the same probability as my sharing a Pulitzer Prize — with Angelina Jolie.

So why do so many legions of otherwise intelligent people knowingly insist on participating in a ridiculous gambling enterprise week-to-week when they have to intuitively understand their prospects of winning are dimmer than the Haitian navy taking on the 6th Fleet?

Maybe it's because Powerball isn't really a lottery game at all. It's a license for a cheap, short-lived thrill.

Sure, there are some reality-challenged rubes out there who will delude themselves into thinking if they spend hundreds of dollars on Powerball tickets, thereby reducing the odds in their favor from 1 in 195-million to perhaps 1 in 194.999999-million, they are on the A-Train to affluence.

Who are these silly people? They are the ones in front of you in traffic talking on their cell phones, with subprime mortgages and unintelligible tattoos in a foreign language they don't speak on their arms.

These are the people who believe "professional wrestling" is a real sport.

It is certainly arguable that for many people a lottery ticket offers a brief respite to indulge in the daydream of wondering what we would do with all that money if the unimaginable were to happen. There are the bills that would be paid off, the family members helped, the charities suddenly given a surprise donation, the dreadful boss told to … well, you get the general idea.

There are the trips to Europe perhaps, and maybe a couple bottles of Johnnie Walker Blue.

All in all, not a bad vicarious vacation from the travails of daily life for a dollar or two.

And yes, you're probably right. That guy standing in line next to you at the convenience store wearing the dark glasses and the fake Groucho Marx mustache waiting to buy his Powerball ticket does look suspiciously like — Bill McCollum.

Even fuddy-duddies can dream, you know.

A plate of futility with a dash of hope 01/08/09 [Last modified: Friday, January 9, 2009 10:30am]
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