March Sadness: Most Of Us Suck At Gambling And The Lottery

We’re down to the Sweet 16, and as usual, a team in my Final Four (and NCAA Championship Game) has withered, died, and been buried. This year, I made the mistake of picking Wichita State to lose to Florida in the season’s final showdown. I was shocked to hear that all the experts picked the undefeated Shockers losing so early. Turns out, they’re called “experts” for at least some reason.


Luckily, it’s another one of those wacky years where anything can happen, so I’m still alive in my office pool. Thank god so many people picked Kansas. Now I just have to hope the trendy Michigan State pick fails, too. Oh, an upset of Arizona wouldn’t hurt, either. Damn it. I’m not going to win this, am I?

My most recent failure to select all Final Four teams correctly got me thinking a lot about how us Americans love get rich quick schemes. Part of our identity as Americans is rooted in a shared belief that anyone can make it anywhere with hard work – but another very real, shared communal thought is that we can (and maybe will) become wealthy with a good stroke of fate.

This applies to contests, the lottery, gambling, and all kinds of sweepstakes. I’m as guilty as anyone else of thinking that spending a few bucks here and there might lead to making millions – or hundreds. Full disclosure: I filled out my bracket on Yahoo this year, pressed submit, and honestly had the thought, “I’m going to make $350 for these awesome picks. No one in my office can touch this. This is my year. My ticket.”

Then Wichita State lost, and I was reminded that things don’t work that way. While I won’t completely rule out ever getting lucky and winning some money, I’ve come to grips with the idea that I’m no one special in the sweepstakes lifestyle. In a way, my luck gambling is symbolic of the average American’s struggle. While there are plenty of lottery winners and gambling gurus, most of us don’t get rich quick.

Now this begs the question, if I know I’ll lose almost every time, why the hell do I keep entering my bracket into a pool, buying lottery tickets, and purchasing those penny scratcher games?

I blame The Gold Rush of 1849, the movie Blank Check, and J.K. Rowling selling a book about a wizard that she wrote on napkins in a coffee shop. In our country, we too often celebrate the person who made the quick buck instead of the new 60-year-old multi-millionaire who worked his or her ass off for everything she got (clarification: I don’t think J.K. didn’t work hard, but her story is a rare one).


As a society, we’re obsessed with who won the lottery. “What state were they in?” “Oh, they bought it at a gas station, seriously?” “It was a teacher? I’m a teacher and I didn’t win, damn it!” “Why God, why not me?”

Soon everyone who bought a lotto ticket, or entered a bracket, or put some money down on a three-team parlay and lost turns on the winner in rage. Hate rears its ugly head, and we view the winner of whatever contest we entered as our enemy. They took our god damn money. We deserve it, not them! How is it that they get it to be a millionaire now and not me?

I understand the initial anger. It sucks to lose. But why not have a little perspective when it comes to this kind of stuff? After all, is it really losing? None of us average, hard-working folk have a greater claim to instant treasure than another one of our kind. If you buy a lottery ticket or opt into a bracket, you’re just as likely to lose as most of the other money-hungry entrants. There’s no point in harboring irrational hate in your heart. Someone else won, good for him or her! Maybe it’ll be you next time, but most likely it won’t.

The sad thing is that many people work very hard their entire lives and don’t get rich, either. For them, becoming a billionaire isn’t in the proverbial cards. But don’t let that get you down. It’s much nicer subscribing to the old American axiom that anyone can become Daddy Warbucks with hard work and determination.

As for me, I’ve still got a feeling I can win this office bracket. Then I’ll use that $350 I win on a bunch of lotto tickets. That’s got to work, right?


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