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Betting to Lose


All in all, hard work and ambition are more likely pathways to financial success.


Last year, Americans legally wagered more than $1.1 trillion.

In yesterday's Christian Science Monitor, Mark Lange, a former speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush-for whom he wrote the 1991 State of the Union Address-says they also lost more than they spent on movie tickets, recorded music, spectator sports, video games, and theme parks combined, along the way.

Lange notes that in 1999, the bipartisan National Gambling Impact Commission found that 80% of gambling revenue comes from households with incomes of less than $50,000 a year, and that players with annual incomes of less than $10,000 spent almost three times as much on gambling as those with incomes of more than $50,000.

States tout their lotteries as a way to supplement funding for public education. Massachusetts, with the most successful lottery in the U.S. (California and Louisiana are home to the worst performers), is now considering legalizing casino gambling. Lange points out that 16% of adults leave Massachusetts to gamble each year, spurring gaming advocates to argue that legalization would recapture lost revenue from these gamblers and generate $350 million in income to the state from slots alone.

According to Lange's findings, state lotteries are among the largest buyers of radio advertising in their metro markets.

Look at that lucky guy…

They then spend additional taxpayer money on ads offering help for addicted gamblers.

…and this one.

Everyone knows the odds of actually hitting a lottery jackpot are remarkably slim. I stumbled upon a fascinating site about all things math from Paul Cox. He explains the chances of winning the lottery with a $1 bet:

If there are 40 balls and 6 are chosen, 40 possible numbers can come up first, leaving 39 that can come up second, then 38, 37, 36, and 35 on the final number. To find out how many numbers that is, multiply 40 ×39 ×38 ×37 ×36 × 35 = 2,763,633,600, making the odds 2,500,000,000 to 1.

Since the order of the balls doesn't matter, divide 2,763,633,600 by how many ways these numbers can be arranged. There are six possibilities for the first ball, five for the second, four for the third, three for the fourth, two for the fifth, and one for the sixth.

6 × 5 × 4 × 3 × 2 × 1 = 720.

Thus, the odds are 2,763,633,600 ÷ 720, which translates into 3,838,380 to 1.

As for the probability of winning the lottery on a $1 bet? With 1 being a perfect chance, and 0 being no chance at all, the probability of winning the lottery with $1 is 1 ÷ 3,838,380, equaling 0.0000002605.

There's a 3,838,380 to 1 chance that X=0

But, what if you actually do win? Life becomes a bowl of cherries, right?


Sometimes not.

  • William "Bud" Post won $16.2 million in the Pennsylvania Lottery in 1988. Then his brother tried to have him killed for the inheritance. Post spent all his winnings and was living off Social Security when he died in January, 2006.

  • In 1997, Billie Bob Harrell Jr. hit the Texas Lottery for $31 million. Two years later, he committed suicide, having bought cars and real estate, and giving money to his family, church, and friends. After his death there wasn't enough money left for estate taxes.

  • Evelyn Adams won the New Jersey Lottery twice (!), in 1985 and 1986, for a total of $5.4 million. In 2001, after gambling and giving away every last cent, Adams was living in a trailer.

All in all, hard work and ambition are more likely pathways to financial success.

Oh, and naps.

MetroNaps, a "napping salon" founded in 1993 with locations in New York City, Australia, Germany, and the UK, claims to "enhance workforce productivity through midday napping equipment and education."

In association with Carnegie Mellon University, MetroNaps developed something called the EnergyPod, which MetroNaps describes as "an elegant yet simple device that counters the problem of employee workday fatigue."

"Climbing the corporate ladder" with her eyes shut…

Tired? Stop into your local MetroNaps for a little afternoon shut-eye!

A 20-minute nap goes for $14, with an additional 20 minutes available for $9.50.

Too tired to schlep all the way over to MetroNaps?

No problem-they'll gladly sell you your very own EnergyPod for the office.

So, what's in it for employers? MetroNaps says:

"The more the public learns about the cost of fatigue and the benefits of napping, the more employees will realize they have a right to ask for a nap room at work and employers will realize that allowing them to have one can only benefit their bottom line."


In a 2003 study, researchers Sara Mednick and Ken Nakayama from the Psychology Department at Harvard University and Robert Stickgold from Harvard Medical School's Department of Psychiatry report that naps can lead to improved performance and can also facilitate the learning process.

If only Mednick, Nakayama, and Stickgold were around when my teachers caught me sleeping in class.

"But, Mrs. McCreery-I wasn't sleeping! I was facilitating the learning process! I swear!"

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