One person winning $758.7 million dollars, nearly a billion dollars in a single lottery is just plain wrong. That’s what happened recently to Mavis Wanczyk, 53, of Chicopee, Massachusetts who won the Powerball in the United States, although she probably wouldn’t agree with me. The history of lives being ruined by winning multi-million dollar lotteries is common knowledge. Most of us are barely equipped financially to handle more than our weekly pay cheque or perhaps an annual bonus at work. I know when I was working my annual bonus usually went to pay off my Visa. How’s that for smart management of found money? Young people in particular are notorious for blowing their winnings on Corvettes and houses they ultimately can’t afford to maintain when their money is gone. They buy gifts and trips for friends and family, which is understandable but ultimately not smart. Before long, they’re back where they started—broke—and those so-called friends are long-gone. Money that’s not earned is like monopoly money; it is meaningless and like those former friends it soon evaporates.
Wouldn’t it be so much more equitable to distribute lottery winnings over a larger group of people. Imagine nearly one thousand people winning one million dollars each rather than one person scoring the entire $758.7 million jackpot. I realize it’s those huge winning numbers that generate ticket sales but I think tweaking the system so more people win money is a simple case of packaging and marketing it properly. Increasing the odds of producing more winners could surely be an incentive to keep ticket sales up. I know I’d be just as happy with a million dollars as I would with eight times that amount. What on earth could one person need that much money for?
We’ve all had those fantasy talks over a bottle of wine speculating about what we’d do if we won the lottery—pay off the mortgage, pay for the kids’ education, take a trip, buy a new car and pay cash for it, quit work. How much do we really need? A million dollars would cover all those things and there would still be plenty left over for a Louis Vuitton handbag or new Tesla if we want to treat ourselves to something totally self-indulgent. Putting a cap of say five million dollars on individual winnings would spread the wealth.
When lotteries were legalized in Ontario several decades ago, we were promised new recreation centres and hockey rinks, improved community services and other goodies which like those good-time friends seem to have evaporated. As a citizen and a buyer of lottery tickets I’d sure like to know exactly where the profits are going, beyond the payout of winnings. Does anyone know? We desperately need new subways and expanded affordable public transit in the Greater Toronto Area. Our indigenous people need clean drinking water services and more affordable fresh fruit and vegetables on remote reserves. Many inner city schools and shelters could use help with programs for poorly served children. Many seniors cannot afford premium medical attention not covered by OHIP.
As a former marketer in the corporate world it doesn’t strike me as being all that complicated to make our lottery programs more viable and equitable. A few changes would benefit everyone. In my opinion, it’s as easy as 1, 2, 3.
- Redistribute winnings over a larger number of people by reducing giant jackpots. Smaller jackpots = more winners.
- Market ticket sales to reflect the benefits to the community, the greater number of winners and the increased odds of winning.
- Show us the money. Make the results of the distribution of profits transparent and easily available to the citizens and tickets buyers. Prove you’re doing good work with the profits of lotteries.
Changing the lottery system is just one of many things I would change if I were running this show. But I’m not. I suspect lottery executives receive giant salaries and benefits which could probably also use some scrutiny. Where does all the money go? No one seems to know how lottery winnings are distributed or how the profits are spent. And because of that we’re all losers.
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