In Defense of Scratch Tickets
There are a lot of situations in which to avoid scratch tickets.
If you’re talking about spending money over a long period of time, your better off not buying them. If you’re looking for an anniversary gift, nope, not the spot. And if you have any basic understanding of math and odds, you know better then to throw your money away like that.
But you should still get some, every now and then.
There’s something to be said for the American Dream being sold, gift-wrapped and available at convenience-stores world-wide. Similarly, the odds actually pay off best in the modest purchase realm. After all, buying one scratch ticket a year literally increases your odds of winning a cool prize by infinity. Buying two doubles those odds. Then you start losing off on those “increases” but until then it’s a pretty fun ride. And unlike the state lottery, it’s not all-or-nothing; you’re not winning a thousand dollars a week for life. But you might win $50. That’d make your day pretty cool.
Second, the odd pay-outs of scratch tickets might be better than you think. If you’re expecting staggering odds, this cool blog-post by a statistition (http://wmbriggs.com/blog/?p=5285) might interest you. Surveying (at his point) contemporary NYC scratch-tickets, he notes that the expected payout rate is between sixty and seventy percent. This means that even if you concede that your “throwing” away your money, on average, you’re only throwing out thirty-five cents per dollar spent; this means the true “stupidity” cost of a $2 ticket is only around $.70, well worth the cost of daydreaming all day, making it cheaper and better for you than anything on the dollar menu. Similarly, as prices go up, so do payout rates. The blog notes that the $30 ticket (!?) pays out at a 93% rate meaning that you can “expect” to make almost $28 dollars back. Feel free to explain that to your incredulous friends later.
I’m not a math guy, so I can’t check this guy’s actual stats, but they sound fine to me. I’m more concerned with the philosophical aspect, which still holds up. There are hidden benefits to buying scratch tickets. Keeping one unscratched can keep you mildly excited all day, winning small sums (even if you net-lose money) makes life more exciting, and not being the sort of guy who worries about the sort of odds that makes it “stupid” to hope every now and then is priceless.
So the next time your reaching for ramen, consider getting a lottery ticket. You’ll probably lose. Assume you will, even, if you have to. But you might not. And for $1 as a starting point, adding a little possibility and luck into your day is good for your soul, if not your wallet.
Also, I just won $10. So maybe I’m biased.