O’Connor: A lottery you can’t lose
First you were excited, nearly breathless with anticipation. Then, disappointed and angry. And, finally, the realization that you’d allowed yourself to be so clearly played for a rube, so blatantly ripped-off, left you flushed with overwhelming feelings of resentment and shame.
No, I’m not talking about wasting your money to go see “Fifty Shades of Grey,” I’m talking about playing the Powerball lottery.
At first, you dream about how many mink-lined bathtubs you’ll put in your Paris pied-à-terre after you cash in the $564.1 million prize drawn on Wednesday (Feb. 11). Then, the winners are announced, all from who-cares-where since it isn’t you, and you suddenly remember why you flunked statistics. Then you realize you’ve been throwing away $2 a week on Powerball tickets for more than two months, meaning you’ve spent nearly $20 just to make yourself feel stupid.
So let me just say that you shouldn’t feel stupid. You ARE stupid.
Lottery without losers
Not that I’m any different. I am right there with you, throwing $4 a week into the office Powerball pool, one ticket for me and one for my long-suffering wife, Mrs. Funny Money. This is so that, if we win the big cash hoard and she decides to no longer be long-suffering, she can take her winnings and walk, which avoids the hassle of suing me and giving it all to lawyers.
Doesn’t that seem just so imminently and responsibly smart and practical? Why, yes, it does mean I am doubling the amount of money I spend on a lottery where I have a one-in-175 million chance of winning — what’s your point?
Fine, you want something better? How about a lottery where you never lose — a prize-linked savings account. This credit union program was created six years ago in my home state of Michigan in a program called Save To Win, which has expanded to Nebraska, North Carolina and Washington.
These accounts give savers a chance to win monthly and quarterly prizes ranging from $25-$5,000 for every $25 they deposit into one-year certificates of deposit, and 10 grand prizes of $10,000 in Michigan, for example, or one grand prize of $25,000 in Nebraska. Last week, Roosevelt Cole, a 36-year member of the Southfield, Michigan, People Driven Credit Union, won $10,000.
“It’s just money I put aside for a rainy day,” says Cole, retired federal corrections officer. “Whatever you deposit, you just leave it there for a year. At the end of the year I can just transfer it out of that account to my regular savings account.”
Cole adds that he doesn’t have any big plans for his winnings, but will use some of the money to defray the gas expenses he has from working with several volunteer groups.
Check for lottery near you
Last year, federal rules were passed that allowed big banks and credit unions to offer them in any state that doesn’t specifically forbid it, and new laws authorizing prize-linked accounts have been passed in Indiana, Connecticut, New York, Maryland, Maine and Rhode Island.
(To see if such a program is available near you, check your state credit union association, or check out www.d2dfund.org, the web site of one nonprofit that encourages low-income consumers to save.)
Will discovering a no-risk, interest-bearing alternative to what is the guaranteed chance to lose money on the Powerball mean that I’m giving up lotteries? No, but let me be clear: It’s not like I think we’ll ever stop losing. It’s just that I am terrified that 22 of my co-workers might win and I’ll be left sitting in the office answering calls like this:
(Office phone rings)
Me: Business desk — can I help you?
Suddenly Wealthy and Soon-To-Be-Former Co-worker: Yeah, I’m not gonna be in today.
Me: Oh, you’re calling sick?
Suddenly Wealthy and Soon-To-Be-Former Co-worker: No! I’m calling in rich! RICH! RICH! RICH! Filthy stinking disgustingly RICH! Tell ’em I quit and the can send my vacation pay to the Beverly Hills Hilton, sucker! Hahahahahah! (Click).
Then I would get that phone call another 21 times, which is why I play the lottery. My only hope is that it won’t eat up any winnings from my new Save To Win account.
Brian O’Connor is author of the award-winning book, “The $1,000 Challenge: How One Family Slashed Its Budget Without Moving Under a Bridge or Living on Government Cheese.”