Jack was late. I'd already picked up my New York fries (yes, I know, I know), figuring Jack wasn't going to show up. He emptied some papers from a pocket of his jacket, and left to get his lunch.
I noticed there were quite a few lottery stubs -- 6/49.
When Jack sat down with his plate of Manchurian delicacies, I asked him about the lottery tickets; some of them looked quite dated. I said "Jack, don't you check your tickets after every draw?"
Jack said "No, I don't. As long as I don't check, I won't know I haven't won. I could be walking around with a couple of million in my pocket. It gives me a good feeling. After I check I don't have the same good feeling -- I've never won anything more than ten bucks. But I do check before the year is up, though. Can't run the risk of losing a million either."
I said "you know you have a better chance of being struck by lightning than of winning the lottery, don't you?"
"Well," said Jack, "if it's all the same to you, I'd rather win the lottery.
I said "Anyhow, what would you do if you did win a million dollars?"
"I'd be travelling for the rest of my life," answered Jack. "I'd drop by once a year to have lunch with you, but that's it. What would you do if you won the lottery?"
I thought for a moment. "I don't know. I'd probably take a year to make up my mind. But then again, my chances of winning are exceptionally slim."
"Why?" asked Jack.
I said: "because I never buy a ticket. A friend of mine calls lotteries a tax on fools. Your chances of winning are infinitesimal."
"True," said Jack, "but someone has to win. And it might as well be me. Besides, it's only a couple of bucks a week, and at least some of it is going to a good cause."
"How much do you spend on lotteries in a week?" I asked.
"I only play 6/49," said Jack, "and I buy three sets of numbers every draw. So, that's 12 dollars."
I said "That adds up to about $ 600 a year. That's a fair bit of change. That's the cost of a return flight to Europe in the off-season," I added, knowing I would touch a soft spot.
"I never thought of it that way," said Jack.
I said "and another thing: you'd be far better off saving your money for a whole year, and then betting the entire amount on a single draw."
"I don't get it," said Jack.
"Suppose your chance of winning the 6/49 with one set of numbers is one in a million. If you play every draw, your chance stays one in a million, regardless how many draws you enter. But if you save your money and buy 600 dollars worth, you chances for that one draw are now 600 in a million. Much better odds, although still not very good."
Jack thought for a bit to work out the details of my comments, as he chewed a mouthful of Oriental delights.
"I know you're right," he finally said, "but I still like my way best: twice a week I can feel like a millionaire. If I did it your way, I'd feel like that only once a year. It just isn't worth it."
Jack was right: logic isn't the only thing that makes the world go round. And you can bet on that!
Sjef Frenken is a renaissance man: thinker, writer, translator and composer of much music. A main interest, he has many, is setting to music the poetry, written for children, during the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Nimble of mind, Sjef is a youthful retiree and a great-grandfather. Mostly he's a content man, which facilitates his relentless multi-media creativity.
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