We have all had this conversation at work or with friends, “what would you do if you won the lottery?” Pay off that pesky home loan, quit your job, travel the world, start a business, buy cars, villas and even donate some to charity. A windfall of cash is surely the stuff of dreams.
I will not try to persuade you that lottery tickets are a waste of money given the impossible odds. Or a critique on how the State-licensed system is designed to extract money from the poor in return for an unlikely shot at riches feeding off desperation and false hope.
No, this is a massively unpopular opinion piece on how, even if you defy the Super 5 odds of 1:1,221,759 and hit the jackpot, the probability is that you will still end up in a worse position than where you started off.
Day 1: So, you won the lottery, a million euros. How do you claim it? It’s popular around the world to claim your prize anonymously but many operators don’t allow this for the sake of transparency. So, people wear masks and bags over their head to avoid disclosing their identity. This is because they are afraid of being targeted by thieves, financial advisers, scammers and even family and friends who will all feel entitled to share the winnings. Anonymity can only be considered a fantasy in Malta, and your next hurdle is the Inland Revenue Department where you may need to pay the winnings tax.
Day 7: Now you are sitting on a six-digit bank balance and all your extended family know about this ‒ your ex-colleagues, your friends from school, your third cousin and his dog. Everyone is suddenly turning up for a well-earned congratulations. It’s like your wedding day, only that they are expecting a cash envelope as a souvenir.
Day 30: If you thought that was an initial nuisance, wait till you have to share your winnings with your loved ones;
Your parents are expecting a hefty sum given all they gave up for your upbringing.
Your partner will most probably never agree with that sum – do you share the jackpot with your partner?
Your closest friends definitely deserve to be ravished as they stood by your side throughout the years. Do you dish out equally or are some friends more equal than others?
Are you reserving any portion for your kids? Did you just spend more on your friends than your own kids?
Do you treat your own blood cousins out of generosity or your ex-colleagues who stood by your desk, day in, day out?
The probability is that you end up with fewer true friends
Being able to be generous and lavishing your loved ones may feel good, but, as you can imagine it can create conflicts between parties feeling worth less to you than other parties.
The probability is that you end up with fewer true friends than before the lottery winning as people tend to get offended rather than appreciate.
The misery comes from the fact that everyone you know – or ever knew – would suddenly feel like you owe them something.
Everyone would want a handout or a free trip. You’d never know if any of them wanted to spend time with you, or if they were just after your money.
When you start telling them no, you are a selfish bastard – you have so much yet you refuse to give even a little away!
Forget that it’s your money or that if you keep buying things you won’t have any money – you suck because you’re greedy. You either keep giving everyone cash or they write you off as a selfish schmuck.
Year 1: At this stage your life has completely changed, and you are a completely different person to your friends and family. Perhaps you engaged a financial advisor to manage your finances. He tells you that after having paid tax and dishing out your earnings treating yourself, family and friends it was probably not that wise to quit your job given that the pensionable age is still 20 to 30 years away. He suggests investing in risky investments or starting a business to make the remaining half a million last to support your newly lavish lifestyle. Such financial consultants have often made headlines by scamming and even murdering the lottery winners.
Year 10: Perhaps you got lucky again and the personal investor was both a good soul and managed to make enough profit to support your rich lifestyle. Perhaps you opened a few restaurants or clothing stores and became an accomplished businessman. This is all well and good but sometimes you doubt yourself if you would have been able to keep everything afloat without the lottery funds. Are you as worthy as others who started from scratch? Even kids of rich parents may feel this way, but such feelings would be more internalised.
However, this is still not the likely scenario. Lottery winners often come from the lower rungs of society and are by definition not good at managing their money. A quick Google search can show you how rags to riches stories very often end up in rags again, with some even regretting their winning ticket. Stories of drug addiction, wrecked families, bankruptcy, suicides and even murders are common. Studies show that the probabilities of such incidents multiply for lottery winners when compared to the population.
Year 20: Your life is unrecognisable. You made new, rich friends, and family may only see you as a source of money. You struggle to find true trustworthy friends or even partners who love you for who you are. You are just “the lottery winner”.
Do you still want to win the lottery? Winning involves an incredible amount of luck to what many times results in a curse. It is in our nature to fantasise about winning and make all our current problems go away. However, we never stop long enough to realise the problems it may create. Such collateral damage to your everyday life and relationships can far outweigh the write-off of your home loan and a couple of weeks in the Bahamas.
So next time you buy the lottery ticket – just know that you have a chance to lose it all.
Neville Zammit is a sceptical economist at times but a friendly business analyst most of the time.