January 15, 2016 1:14 pm
Updated: January 15, 2016 4:36 pm

Lotteries are fairly harmless entertainment, gambling expert explains

WATCH ABOVE: John and Lisa Robinson from Munford, Tennessee, a town of only 6000 people hold one of three lucky Powerball winning tickets. Mark Barger reports.

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As personal wealth, $1.5 billion is a little hard to visualize.

It’s an amount of money we associate more with big companies, or governments. Allowing for currency differences, it would run Toronto’s police, fire and ambulance services for a year, for example.

WATCH: Powerball winners claim their portion of  $1.6B cheque.

It’s somewhere in between the national wealth of Grenada and that of Antigua. (You could buy all of Grenada, but would have to settle for most of Antigua.)

We could go on, but you get the idea.

The three lucky winners overcame odds of about one in about 300 million to hit the lucky numbers. (They’ll have to split the US$1.5 billion three ways – but, as we’ve heard many times, it’s nice to share.)

READ MORE: Our Powerball coverage

Canadian lottery wins, in keeping with our more modest national style, have been more in the tens of millions – great wealth, as opposed to unimaginable wealth. The biggest Canadian payouts have tended to be from either 6/49 or Lotto Max, both national lotteries owned by a consortium of provinces:

  • In July, 20 employees at a Quebec Rona warehouse split a $55 million Lotto Max ticket.
  • In October, a $64-million Lotto 6/49 ticket was sold in Mississauga, Ont.
  • In December, a B.C. man revealed that he and his family were the winner of a $50 million Lotto Max ticket.

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The winners, with some common sense, will be comfortable for the rest of their lives. But what did everybody else buy with their not-quite-winning tickets?

In most cases a fairly harmless fantasy, says Nigel Turner, a gambling expert at Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

“The odds are terrible, period, with any lottery.”

“In the long run, people are better off not buying lottery tickets at all, but if you want to buy a dream, it’s a perfectly reasonable dream. It gives you a bit of a high, it’s a high that’s not cancer-causing, it gives you two or three days of pleasure, because there’s a possibility, and it’s possible you might win.”

The key to buying lottery tickets healthily, he explains, is to see it as entertainment, not as a life rescue plan or an investment.

“As long as you’re playing with money you can afford to lose – and that’s the key – it doesn’t matter. Buy it as an entertainment, you’ll get a couple of days feeling good, and if you win, you win, and if you don’t, no loss, because it’s not going to hurt you.”

“But don’t buy them as retirement savings. Don’t expect it to change your life. It might, but it’s a fantasy.”

People who buy lottery tickets hardly ever turn into problem gamblers, he says.

“Compared to going to a casino, the vast majority of people in treatment are playing at casino games.”

“I’m not that worried about people buying lottery tickets, as long as they are playing with money they can afford to lose.”

Casino gambling, on the other hand, gets some people into very deep trouble:

“(Casinos) have no clocks or windows, it’s completely divorced from reality, you hear all the winners around you. It’s rapid and continuous.”

READ MORE: Across Ontario, desperate problem gamblers surround casinos

”You can play 20 spins a minute on a slot machine, whereas with these big lotteries you wait two or three days before the draw. It’s a discontinuous process, and that’s one of the reasons why it’s a relatively rare thing to get people with lottery problems in treatment.”

 

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