Life, Liberty, Lottery

Most UCI students can probably admit to having forked over a dollar or two at least once in hopes of winning millions of dollars in the lottery in return. And when the winnings reach up to hundreds of millions of dollars these days, who can resist?

The lottery is an odd trapping of luck and statistics. The mentality of “I could be the one to win” could be considered both optimistic and naïve, and yet who can ignore the fact that winners truly do emerge from this great gambling game? To say that lives are changed is an understatement; I’m sure the three winners of the March 2012 $656 million Mega Millions jackpot would agree. And even if you can and do resist the temptation to buy a ticket every now and then, you would be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn’t at least imagined themselves winning, whether they admit to it or not.

My own family constantly talks about what they would do if they were to win the lottery, and yet they only rarely invest in a ticket. They have their whole fantasy lives planned out around the potential change a small slip of paper could bring. But the danger would be if they bought tickets every day with this mentality. I think playing every so often is harmless enough, but if you play with the expectation of winning or place all your hopes on doing so, you might do yourself a disservice when the odds are in favor of disappointment.

Would it even be a good thing to win the lottery? You might immediately answer, “Of course!” But when you live, as I do, with a family who frequently discusses one of their favorite fantasies, you might consider the fact that with great fortune comes great responsibility. For instance, how open can you be about the fact that you have suddenly come into a gigantic windfall? Old friends might show their true colors and less-than-virtuous intentions, while new friends will always be something to be second-guessed and cautious of.

How ostentatiously can you spend your money? If you don’t keep your good fortune on the down-low, are you just asking to be robbed and manipulated, or branded a show-off? And if you are generous when it comes to sharing your winnings, handing out favors could also invite rivalry, drama and politics among your friends and family. Other family difficulties may evolve — for example, if you were to raise a family on the financial stability and luxury that lottery winnings would bring, how would you teach your children the importance of earning a living, working hard and being responsible with your money? After all, the ability to choose lucky numbers isn’t genetic.

Another issue that seems to be quite prevalent among lottery winners is the inability to hold on to your winnings beyond a few months. There have been quite a few instances in which lottery winners blow through all of their winnings and savings in a short period of time and end up in a worse financial situation than before they won.

Discipline and self-control are crucial virtues that must be adopted and exercised after winning the lottery, and you must exercise caution both over yourself and when it comes to those around you … or those who are suddenly around you.

Though it might come with problems, I don’t see the lottery as an essentially evil and corrupt system. It is best when it is played and enjoyed in moderation, even though the lottery itself is the exact opposite of moderation. So go ahead and gamble once in a while, but remember it’s just a game.

Karam Johal is a third-year women’s studies major. She can be reached at johalk@uci.edu.