Lucky Numbers: On Playing The Lottery While Broke

guys and dolls gambling screenshot

Almost all poor people dream of winning the lottery. For lazy poor people like me who hate delayed gratification, it has become a life’s ambition. How am I going to pay for my retirement? Win the lottery, of course! It’s that kind of stupid reasoning that makes the lottery so lucrative. And then there is the theory beloved by gamblers everywhere – I was so close this time, a big win must be just around the corner!

Most gamblers do have a Good Luck Story. There is always that one unforgettable day in Vegas, Reno, or the closest Indian casino; that day or week when clairvoyance brought the right numbers to your playslip, that keeps you sinking hard-earned dollars into your vice-of-choice.

For me, that Good Luck Story started on St. Patrick’s Day in 2008. It was during Lent and I had given up clothes and accessory shopping for forty days, like a good feminist pro-choice lapsed Catholic. This was back when I was still working for the State of California, grossing over 4K a month and sometimes playing $10 a day in the Daily 3. On that Luck-of-the-Irish day, I played 189 boxed/straight and won $210 when it came out straight. Maybe I was part Irish and didn’t know it. My first thought after discovering my good fortune was to head over to Nordstrom Rack. But no, I was going to see this Lenten denial thing through. The Betting Beelzebub wasn’t done with me yet. There was more temptation to follow. The next day, 731, another one of my regular numbers, also came out straight. This time, I won $236. What was I going to do with my windfall, since I couldn’t buy a new handbag? Save it for a rainy day or accessory shopping after Easter? I paid to have my income taxes done, I treated two co-workers to lunch, and I spent over $150 on CDs. Thankfully, Lent was almost over. Since I was working and making good money, I continued to play the Daily 3. Maybe my luck would continue. Surprisingly, it did. Nine days later, 423 came out straight. My friend Lorraine’s birthday was April 23 and I had told her that if the number came out straight, I would give her half. I was thrilled to be able to give her $113 as an early birthday present. Three days later, I won $35 when another number came out boxed. That was the end of my winning streak.

I never forgot it, that fortnight of financial gain. I know that the California Lottery was counting on the fact that I would never forget. It never happened again, but each time I played a number I hoped that I was beginning a new lucky streak.

On September 14, 2013, the Aftershock Festival, a two-day festival of metal bands, would be rocking in Discovery Park. Even though tickets had gone on sale months ago, I had held off on buying them. I was applying for jobs in both northern and southern California and maybe I wouldn’t even be in Sacramento in September, I rationalized. By the end of August, I realized that no new job was on the horizon, but the Aftershock Festival was in two weeks. The ticket prices had gone up and time was of the essence. I needed extra money NOW. I turned to my old friend, the California Lottery. Maybe Lady Luck would provide some moolah for my metal cravings. I pulled out one of my old Daily 3 playslips, the one with the birthdays of the musicians in my favorite band. But there were two draws a day. There was no way that I could afford to play $10 a day in the lottery when my only income was a small Unemployment Insurance check. I no longer had finances at my disposal like I did during the lucky two weeks in March 2008. I vowed to play sporadically, when I had $5 in my wallet and was near a lottery retailer. And that was my first mistake. Instead of Luck-of-the-Irish, Murphy’s Law decided to have some fun at my expense for the next thirty days.

As August turned into September, I kept track of the day’s winning numbers. On the days that I played, I usually missed by one number. On Wednesday, September 4, one of the numbers came out boxed in the evening draw, paying $50, almost enough for a one-day $60 ticket. Of course, that was the day I didn’t play. Money was tight, but the next day, I played one of the five numbers. That evening, another one of the five numbers came out boxed and paid $49. It wasn’t the one I had played. What was I going to do? Two numbers had come out almost consecutively — was it the beginning of another winning streak?

The show was getting closer, but I was not. On the evening of Thursday, September 12, I played all five numbers again. It was now or never. There was only one day left to get advance tickets. Come on, Lady Luck! That night, Murphy reared his ugly, vindictive head. The number that came out was 928 – the birthday of the musician who had left my favorite band. The number paid $227, money that would not have only bought me a ticket, but also would have taken care of some other expenses.

Instead of giving up, I took it as a sign that luck was on its way. I played all five numbers again for the midday draw on Friday the 13th . No winner. That evening, with both money and time running out, I played one of the five numbers for the next two draws. If I hit on Saturday afternoon, I could still get to the show before the bands I wanted to see hit the stage. But luck wasn’t with me. I spent all day Saturday in an enormous, mean, evil funk. It wasn’t fair. I should have been banging my head in the hot sun with thousands of other music fans. Why didn’t I just buy a ticket in May when I was still working my temp job? Of course, that night’s number was one of the five numbers – straight, paying $330. Why didn’t that number come out the previous afternoon?

Like a good little gambler, I continued to hope for financial gain. Maybe the other four numbers were getting ready to hit! I couldn’t go to the show, but maybe I could buy something new! I was in the clutches of my addiction. Just four dollars more (and more and more) would bring me satisfaction. After crying all day Sunday, I played again on Monday evening, making a special trip to a liquor store at 6:20 PM to insure that my ticket would be in for the evening draw. If it went in after 6:30 PM, the ticket would be for Tuesday afternoon instead. No luck on Monday night, but the Tuesday midday number was one of the numbers on the ticket. If I had waited ten minutes, I would have had $275 in my hand on Tuesday. On Wednesday, I played the three remaining numbers – nothing. Thursday evening, one of the numbers came out boxed and paid $65. I did not play on Thursday. I added up the damage. If I had played the right numbers on the right days, I would have won $769 in two weeks.

I had to give it up. I put away the playslip and tucked my dwindling dollars back into my wallet. It was over. Maybe I was only lucky during Lent. On September 27, the number that had came out straight on September 17 came out one more time, this time paying $269. By the end of the month, I had spent $71 on the California Lottery, enough to pay for an Amtrak ticket to Los Angeles. It was time to quit.

A few nights ago, I had two dreams about Lenny Kravitz, who was born the same day as my best friend Mary – May 26, 1964.  526 – now, that hasn’t hit for awhile …

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10 Comments / Post A Comment

PicNic (#3,760)

oh man, this made me so anxious! My family is really into scratch tickets. My grandmother played “Megabucks” and some other NH lottery thing. Sometimes when we were at the grocery store she would let me pick one or two of her numbers but that was always a gamble in itself because if my numbers came up I was her lucky charm, but if her numbers came up and none of mine did, the love was gone. I think at one point she won $10k though, but I think that was before I was born.

Everyone else is pretty benign. Scratch tickets are given out around the holidays and usually based as prizes won from group games, or in your stocking or birthday card. I think the most I’ve ever won is $60.

Years ago when my mom was alive she would have a little get together at Christmas and ask Christmas trivia questions and if you got a question right, you got a scratch card. We’d wait and everyone would scratch their cards at the end. I remember we were pretty poor that year and she had been really stressed about money. She always gave out all of the tickets but we made her keep one for herself and she won $500. It was referred to as the “Christmas Miracle” for years, obviously.

Heather F G (#6,074)

The little old lady who has cleaned my office since the building was erected in the early 70s plays the lottery every day, and by my tally, in the ~year and a half I’ve worked here, has won $225,000 (spread out over THREE big wins). I think she’s finally going to retire at the end of the year because of it.

erinep (#4,236)

@Heather F G That is amazing. I’m excited for her!

Heather F G (#6,074)

@erinep Me too! She’s the best. I still haven’t bought a lottery ticket ever, but when I do, I’m going to touch her for good luck. (Everyone else in the building does, with permission of course)

erinep (#4,236)

My grandma would keep a notebook with a list of all the numbers drawn for the smaller state lottery. About 6 months after she started picking her numbers based on previous drawings, she won $1000. She probably won about $10k over 5 years.

My parents are scratch ticket people – they get the $2 tickets when they get gas, so maybe once a week, and on road trips when they get gas. I get a $5 ticket in my stocking at christmas. My mom tends to win $40 here and there. They’ll get powerball when it gets to be crazy high.

When I’m having a particularly crappy day at work, I’ll walk across the street and get a powerball or megabucks ticket and hope that things will be different in a few days. I won $1 last time and I still haven’t cashed it. Maybe I’ll walk over in a little bit and trade it for another ticket.

Lily Rowan (#70)

I totally got the vicarious excitement reading this. GAMBLING.

Maybe I’ll get a scratch card on my way home.

Allison (#4,509)

@Lily Rowan I got the excitement in the first half and the anxiety in the second. But I did grab scratch tickets for me and my friends when I took them out to dinner for Christmas/Hannukah. We won zilch

Liz the Lemur (#3,125)

Too much excitement/anxiety for me. That and I still haven’t been able to shake the “gambling is the devil” pounded into my brain during childhood.

But I’m very happy for those who enjoy it and win. :)

andnowlights (#2,902)

I’ve never bought a lottery ticket, but when I manage to make it up to Churchill Downs or Keeneland, I bet on ponies! Usually my dad will give me a $20 and I make 10 $2 (the minimum) bets. I NEVER win because I am the worst and choose my favorite horse based on how pretty it is, but it’s also not my money, ha ha.

mizpat (#7,195)

Great read – and reminds me of why I don’t play the lottery. Too easy to get hooked!

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