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"He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have."

-- Socrates

Last week, I made my irregular contribution to the elaborate system Arkansas developed for separating its citizens from their money in the name of higher education. It's technically called the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery, but all anyone cared about last week were the terms Powerball and MegaMillions.

Most of us were donors. A few were winners. I have no way of knowing at the time I write this, but I'd bet none of Arkansas' 3 million residents won the jackpots in either contest. When you read this, you'll know whether I'm right or wrong about that, but the odds are on my side.

I've never cared for the lottery as a matter of public policy. It's unhealthy for the government by, of and for the people to perpetuate a system that lures money away from its citizens with a false hope of riches based on nothing but random numbers.

Both MegaMillions and Powerball jackpots climbed to more than $400 million for their respective Friday and Saturday drawings. And even with my objections about lotteries as government policy, that was enough to bring out my inner sucker.

Two dollars for Powerball. Two dollars for MegaMillions. If I won, you might be reading my final column. Chances, however, are astronomical that you can find me right back at my desk in Springdale this morning.

What I didn't didn't do last week, and likely never will, is join up with co-workers or friends to pool our money on the notion that our odds for winning are greater together. That may be infinitesimally so. But I'll take my chances on my own, thank you.

It's not greed. It's fear of greed, I suppose, that keeps me from such entanglements. For an object lesson, let's turn our attention to Stuttgart, home of the World Championship Duck Calling Contest. But this is a quacky story of another sort.

An employer at the Sportsman Drive-In thought it'd be a great idea to buy his waitresses scratch-off lottery tickets as a form of Christmas spirit. Reportedly, on Dec. 22, he gave two waitresses -- friends Mandy Vanhouten and Leslie Underwood -- eight tickets. Underwood says the two divided the stack for scratching with the understanding that any winnings would be split between them.

Within minutes, they had a winning ticket worth $300,000. Come Dec. 27, however, only Vanhouten showed up at a lottery office to claim the prize. As one might easily imagine, Underwood has filed a lawsuit and, according to her filing, Vanhouten has never returned to work. The lawsuit asks for a temporary restraining order to prevent Vanhouten from spending any of the winnings until a judge gets to review the situation.

So, merry Christmas and happy new year.

I've seen people give lottery scratch-offs as small gifts before. I suppose there's no real harm, except that in most cases, the person is effectively giving people nothing but a piece of heavy card stock to recycle. But what if one of those tickets won a big prize? I don't think most people consider how greed can become an operating principle when a pot of money comes into the picture.

I have pondered what would happen if Aunt Ethel gave little Tommy and Susie lottery scratch-off tickets as inexpensive holiday gifts and one of them turned into a winner of, say, $100,000. Would Ethel bask in the joy of giving, or would she try to figure out how to get her hands on some of the prize money?

Author Dan Millman has an answer: "[Money] is a form of energy that tends to make us more of who we already are, whether it's greedy or loving."

If Aunt Ethel is a saint, maybe she'll celebrate the surprise for the child. Then again, it might be easy to convince herself kids don't need that kind of money.

Back in 2012, a McDonald's employee in Maryland won a third of a $640 million lottery prize. Her co-workers claim the ticket was purchased as part of an office pool. The employee claimed she bought the winning ticket separately from the pool.

In Florida, a country club employee had been part of a twice-a-week lottery pool with coworkers. On the day the group won $16 million, the employee was out sick. She sued, claiming the group typically covered for any regular contributor who was out of the office. She lost, but as with other such circumstances, the "winnings" led to legal complications that made attorneys wealthier.

I've got a friend who promised to buy me a boat if he ever wins the lottery jackpot. People make such statements because, deep down, they know they're never going to win the big prize. Which begs the question of why we waste our money playing a game we know there's virtually no hope of winning.

Commentary on 01/08/2018

Print Headline: Taking chances

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