Matthew Warner

Thoughts on Buying a $1.3 Billion Lottery Ticket

powerballYeah, I’m one of those dweebs who only buys lottery tickets when the jackpot grows big enough to make headlines. Currently, the largest jackpot in history, $1.3 billion, will be drawn this Wednesday via the Powerball lottery. If nobody bought the winning numbers, it will continue to grow.

The chances of winning this money are of course infinitesimally small, about 1 in 292.2 million. What we’re really buying with those $2 tickets, I believe, is the fantasy of winning. For $2 (or in my case, $12), I’m buying two days of daydreaming about what Deena and I would do with that money.

In other words, buying a lottery ticket can be a spiritual thing. It’s an opportunity for values assessment.

Investment Values
The first question is one of investment values. Would I take the lump sum of $806,000,000 or the thirty-year annuitized payout of $43,333,333 per year? My feeling is that even after taxes, the $30.7 million I’d have remaining (here in Virginia) would still be more than I could spend in a year. Besides which, given my age, why not take the thirty-year payout? According to the Powerball jackpot analysis, I would receive a net of about $923,000,010 after thirty years, compared to a net of $552,110,000 if I took it all at once.

Paranoid Fantasies
Now that that’s settled, I would entertain my paranoid fantasies. There has to be a class of criminals out there who stalk lottery winners. Although federal legislation is in the works to protect the anonymity of lottery winners, and a handful of states (not mine) allow winners to remain anonymous, I’d be worried about what happens when my family’s names are plastered over the newspapers as the winners of $1.3 billion. I’d immediately go to an attorney, before claiming the prize, and ask, “Are you sure I can’t remain anonymous? What if I first set up a trust or a corporation and had it claim the prize?”

If the answer is no, then I think my family would almost be required to move out of our comfortable middle-class suburban house, if only for our safety. I can easily picture somebody parked here on my street, watching me and wife take out the garbage or drive our kids to school, lazily planning an abduction for ransom. This means moving to a more secluded house and possibly hiring around-the-clock security and bodyguards.

Aside from the possibly enforced lifestyle changes to stay safe, there are other risks to worry about. As Forbes warns, Winner Of $1.3 Billion Powerball May Face Suits By Friends, Co-Workers, Family to examine any prior promises to split the money.

And then there’s the stress to relationships just from the very fact of winning: “Why don’t you give me some of that?”

How’s the appeal of that $1.3 billion looking now?

Now the Fun Part
I asked my wife this morning what we would do with all that money ($30.7 million after taxes for the next thirty years) once the questions above are settled.

“We’d stay the same people, as much as we can,” she said. That means we wouldn’t hire cooks to pack our kids’ lunches. We wouldn’t hire a chauffeur to take them to school.

“I’d want to go on a big, expensive cruise ship vacation,” I said. “Stay in a top-of-the-line suite, one of those $10,000-a-night ones.”

Sure, she said, once we solve the homeless problem in our town.

We talked about it. We would establish a charitable trust, administered by knowledgeable people, to give grants to the local homeless shelter. We could also dump money on the animal shelter, too; move them out of that sorry, crowded house and into something large enough so they’d no longer have to be a kill shelter. We’d give money for cancer research. The trust would be tasked with identifying more such charitable opportunities every year.

We brainstormed other ideas. We would set up a fund for poor writers, call it the Starving Artist Grant. Authors living at or below the poverty level could apply for a $50,000 grant to finish a novel. The author would be required to attend an all-expenses-paid trip to the Borderlands Boot Camp for Writers or something similar.

Back to family matters. We’d want to share it with our children, parents, and siblings. A million dollars for each, say, right off the bat. But how far out should we go? We have upward to a hundred people in our extended family, that we know of. Where would be draw the line — or would we? We don’t have answers to that right now.

Taking it back to selfish matters, would I use the money to further my writing career? What if I’d had a million-dollar advertising budget to blow for Dominoes in Time? Wow. Or maybe I’d set up my own movie company to film that almost-award-winning screenplay adaption I wrote of Eyes Everywhere. Would I self-publish any of my novels? No. But I might offer to match every marketing dollar my publisher spent on me.

Then there are those projects that are pure whimsy. We’d buy the former DeJarnette State Sanatorium building, have it fully renovated, and turn it into the Best Damn Haunted House Attraction in America. Oh, and of course, we need more bookstores around Providence, Rhode Island, like Lovecraft Arts & Sciences, honoring H.P. Lovecraft.

Now My Head is Spinning
So, that’s a powerful lot of gut-checking for the price of a $2 ticket. Stories abound of how winning the lottery has been a curse in disguise, how becoming rich was the worst thing that ever happened to someone. Money can’t buy you happiness or love, as the sayings go. I’ve always responded, cheekily, that I’m willing to take that risk.

But am I? Do I really want to be a billionaire? As the lady behind the counter at the post office told me this morning, “I don’t need all of the money. Just some of it.” Instead of $1.3 billion, how about a modest quarter million? That might be better.

I don’t know, realistically, if the winner of that much money could remain the same person as before. Given our loftly goals for charity and art, I’d like to think my wife and I would.

All things considered, I figure somebody has to win that money. It might as well be somebody worthy. Yeah, that’s right: it might as well be me.

Good luck to everyone in their fantasies.

2 Responses

  1. We were talking about some of the same things. Mostly, for me, it would be giving a f*ck ton of money to the shelter and the Mission. We would rent a huge camper and travel across country and back. Only close family (no cousins) would receive money. I would pay off my brother’s two mortgages (because they’re still waiting for State Farm to do the right thing), buy my sister and her boyfriend a nice two-bedroom condo down the shore. Pay off my god daughter’s student loads and a trust that she can use in between Americorps/Forestry Service contracts to live on, for ecology research, and going back to school.

    I like your idea of a charitable trust, I would definitely do something like that.

    However, I think I agree with the post office lady – just a portion of that would be fine. Because $800,000,000 could really mess up your life.