Powerball’s $400 million jackpot inspires fantasies

Giant jackpots seduce even unlikely gamblers.

With the Powerball jackpot now at $400 million, many are powerless to resist the temptation of a ticket.

“I don’t think gambling is right. I don’t think I should gamble. But when it’s a big jackpot like this you just want to be in it,” said Robin Taylor, 54, a disabled home care attendant from New Brunswick, N.J. Taylor only plays when jackpots reach $100 million or more. Then, her fantasies about paying for her grandchildren’s educations, covering all their medical care and taking them to Broadway shows overcome both her skepticism and her scruples.

The odds of winning the jackpot Wednesdaynight ($141.9 million in after tax dollars for New York City residents) are one in 175,223,510, according to the NY State Gaming Commission.

But nearly impossible odds don’t daunt eager dreamers. Regular players, too, ramp up their lottery spending at the prospect of an extra plump payoff. Jaipaul Arjune, 55, a hotel clerk from Ozone Park, habitually spends $10 a day on various lotto products, but planned to spend $50 over Tuesday and Wednesday on Mega Millions (now with a $154 million jackpot) and, of course Powerball. “Sometimes I think about,” the terrible odds, “but I don’t want to know,” Arjune said. “It encourages you to spend your money when the jackpot is big.”

All this hopeful thinking — some might say magic thinking — dismays Doug Borkowski, director of the Iowa State University Financial Counseling Clinic, who works with many low-income people.

Powerball sales in New York City alone on Monday were $841,242, but Borkowski said more people in all the 43 Powerball states, Washington, D.C. and the U.S. Virgin Islands are blowing their money on lottery tickets. Savvy marketing of winners (“it could happen to you!”) has combined with rising income inequality to make people increasingly desperate for hope, said the counselor. “People are grasping at straws” and “looking for miracles,” because they don’t see other paths to financial security, although that is not necessarily true, Borkowski said. The money they spend on tickets would be better invested, or even saved up to provide a source of reliable pleasure, such as a vacation or even a weekend away, he added.

But Bonnie Jacobson, a clinical psychologist on the Upper East Side, said playing Powerball or any other lottery game “takes away the drudgery of everyday life,” for many people, providing a welcome opportunity to fantasize and socialize. “I’m not against gambling, if it’s recreational and not obsessive,” Jacobson said. Playing the lottery is like a poor man’s Wall Street, as both enterprises playing on “hope and hopelessness,” Jacobson said. It is only natural for NYers to be beguiled by the prospect of abrupt and sudden wealth as we live in one of the most materialistic and expensive cities in the world, she added.

Ramiro Morales, 47, of East New York, dropped $10 on Powerball tickets. He still has “my fantasies of big houses and cars,” but most wants to win to give a hefty check to diabetes research and to the hospital where his daughter’s kidney transplant was recently performed. “I’m not greedy; I’m just needy,” Morales said.