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Hannibal Courier - Post - Hannibal, MO
  • A Little Salt: When you can’t beat the odds

  • Why Courier-Post columnist Danny Henley didn't buy a Powerball ticket last week.
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  • I am not a gambler. I don’t bet on baseball, football, basketball or hockey games.
    The only thing I might be tempted to bet on is a sure thing, and how often do they come along? Besides, if it was a guarantee would it really be gambling?
    While some people refuse to gamble on grounds of “moral principle,” I choose not to because I don’t like throwing money away.
    Like in many households across the country, the budget in the Henley home is pretty tight. I’m not saying God doesn’t meet our needs, but in meeting those needs there isn’t a lot of extra cash to be squandered on gambling.
    Consequently, at no point during the days leading up to last week’s record Powerball drawing was I tempted to go out and buy even a single ticket. Still, according to news reports regarding how fast the pot grew leading up to Wednesday’s drawing, a lot of people who typically don’t indulge in lotto betting were going against the odds and playing the numbers. According to one Associated Press story, tickets were selling at a rate of 130,000 a minute nationwide as the drawing drew closer.
    What fascinated me was the fact people were willing to invest in a ticket(s), even knowing that the likelihood of them winning was astronomical. But just how astronomical were the chances of winning last week’s jackpot?
    According to Tim Norfolk, a University of Akron mathematics professor who teaches a course on gambling, the odds of winning the Powerball prize was 1 in 175 million. Not knowing when he provided those odds to the AP, I have to believe the odds might have grown against winning because of the last-minute ticket purchasing that took place.
    To provide a point of reference, the odds of being hit by lightning is 1 in 5,000, according to Norfolk. Those odds of being hit by a bolt of lightning are surely better (is that really the right word?) for someone like me who is hellbent on photographing lightning.
    While the odds of winning millions are great, the chances that all those dollars will provide a life of happiness aren’t as great as one might think. A West Virginia man who won $315 million a decade ago later said the windfall was to blame for his granddaughter’s fatal drug overdose, his divorce, hundreds of lawsuits and an absence of “true friends.” The National Endowment for Financial Education estimates that as many as 70 percent of people who land sudden windfalls lose that money within several years.
    Honestly, the thought of winning the jackpot and winding up miserable never factored into my decision not to buy a ticket last week. It was the simple knowledge that I frequently can’t come out ahead when the odds are far better.
    Page 2 of 2 - This past summer while out cutting grass I got the mower a bit too close to a brick. Moments later I was looking at a bent blade.
    I was lucky enough to find a replacement at the local Farm & Home store. Bringing the new blade home, I had it back on in no time at all.
    Even though the mower on occasion would make an unusual noise if I got on just the right slope, I didn’t give it much thought. After all, it still worked.
    Spring forward to Thanksgiving when my son, Caleb, came home for the holiday. While out mulching leaves for me, he noted the sound coming from beneath the mower. Upon further inspection, Caleb discovered that I’d installed the new blade upside down.
    I had a 50-50 chance of putting the blade on correctly, but couldn’t beat the odds. Buying in when the odds were at least 1 in 175 million against me… Seriously?    

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