Because some (small amount) of the lotto winnings go to fund schools, I've heard the lotto described as "a tax on people who are bad at math." Is it always a bad idea to play the lotto? It depends on the jackpot.
Here is a table of values examining the possibilities of buying one ticket (and no ticket being sold twice). If you are only going to buy 1 ticket, the Jackpot needs to be over $317 million before it makes sense to buy a ticket. At this dollar amount for the jackpot, the game is 'fair'. If you played the game many times, you would tend to break even. (The math gets tricky if you buy two tickets in the same lottery. Why? Because they both can't be the jackpot-winning ticket among other things.)
If you are struggling with the idea of a 'fair' game, think of a simpler (and in this case 'unfair') game. You pay me a dollar. I flip a coin. If it comes up heads, I win. If it comes up tails, I give you $2.01. You would want to play this game, as often as possible. There is a 50% chance that you will end up with nothing after the first game and a 25% chance that you will end up with nothing after the second game. By the time we get to the fourth game, there is a 68% chance that you are ahead. The odds keep moving in your favor from there. Strange as it sounds, you would be much better off playing this game a million times than buying a Powerball ticket in the next million Powerball drawings.
What was the point of this discussion of lottery tickets?
Why do we try something when we know will almost certainly fail? It's because the prize is so great. We'll go out there expecting to lose, but hoping to win. It gives us a moment to dream, even if it is a foolish dream. Losing doesn't hurt so bad, because we were expecting it. So, sometimes we buy lotto tickets and sometimes we push the "Close Door" button on the elevator. We do things that probably don't make a difference, but just might.
(If this was the 511 blog, I'd be writing about the perceived difficulty being low and the perceived value as unknown)
This fifteen minute study break is over. Back to thinking about restorative justice. (If you're reading this on Sunday night, you should probably stop and read go read the Lambert reading for 511)