Lottery sales increase despite long odds - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Special Report--

Lottery sales increase despite long odds

May 8, 2006

Albany-- It seems you can't drive past a corner store or watch television for more than a few minutes without being bombarded with promotions for the Georgia Lottery. They make it seem so easy to win. It's certainly easy to play. "Every time I come into a convenience store, I buy cards," one regular player told us.

Millions of people play the lottery at least every now and then. Eddie Taylor said "I play occasionally. Sometimes I play ten dollars, sometimes 8, 7, 6. It depends." Many play every day. On an average day, the Georgia Lottery sells more than $8 million worth of tickets.

"I try them all in order to try to win some money," John Geter said. He spends about $30 a week on various games, but Cash 3 is one of his favorites. "Any time you can put 50 cents and win $250 or you can put a dollar and win 500 it's always good," Geter said.

But counselors caution, it's not always good. "If you start to orchestrate your activity around buying that lottery ticket, then you may find that dysfunction is leading you down a pathway of addiction," said Psychologist Dr. Cheryl Kaiser. Because the lottery is so accessible and accepted and because people believe it's so easy to win, it can trigger a problem in people with an addictive personality. "Be careful and watch yourself that you're not going down a pathway that is something that is needing to be done, I need to get the lottery ticket to be okay," said Dr. Kaiser.

Truth is, the vast majority of lottery players end up losing money. That's how the lottery stays in business. Woodall's manager Melissa Williams sees it every day. "They be on the short end, but they still do it. They enjoy doing it, so they continue to come in and do it," she said.

The odds of winning on most scratch-off tickets are about 1 in 4. We spent ten dollars on four tickets, and sure enough we won once, just enough to cover our cost. But when we "reinvested" that winner in another ticket, it turned out to be a loser. Net loss . . . ten bucks.

But what about the big money? The odds of winning the Megamillions jackpot are one in 175 million. That number is so big it's hard to grasp, so we went to a science class at Robert Cross Magnet school. The students tried to figure out how much one grain of sand weighs. It wasn't easy, but it turns out one small grain of sand weighs about a tenth of a milligram.

That means 175-million grains of sand weigh more than 42 pounds, enough to fill a good-sized bucket. So think of the lottery like this . . . there's one special grain of sand in the bucket. Your chances of winning Megamillions are the same as your chances of reaching in and pulling out that one winning grain of sand.

But those long odds don't scare many people away. Eddie Taylor said, "I play Mega Millions when it gets up to 50 or 60 million, that type of thing." John Geter told us, "One thing about this game. If you play, you gonna win. Eventually, you gonna win." But you're probably gonna lose a lot more because of the lottery's long odds.

Despite those long odds, Georgians are buying lottery tickets at a record rate, and payouts are up. Last year, sales totaled nearly $3 billion. The Lottery Corporation transferred more than $800 million to the state for education. And lottery players won more than $1.6 billion dollars. All those are records. Also, the payouts equaled nearly 56% of sales, that's significantly higher than any year since the lottery started.

The bottom line is if you treat the lottery as pure entertainment, you don't need or expect to win, and you don't spend more money than you can afford... it's no big deal.

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