Thankful, despite not winning the lottery

Deborah Mitchell - Contributing Columnist

Deborah Mitchell

Contributing Columnist

I’m a little depressed today. I didn’t win the Powerball jackpot, but someone else did. Three someone elses found themselves over $500 million richer Thursday morning. I am truly happy for those people and hope they avoid the fate that has befallen many a jackpot winner – having to file for bankruptcy.

Doesn’t that sound ridiculous? People win millions of dollars, and then some years later, many of them find themselves penniless. How on earth does that happen?

I confess that Max and I rarely play the lottery. We subscribe to the theory that people’s odds of winning the lottery are only slightly better if they play. And besides, instead of paying money just to lose it, I would rather pay money to walk away with something – say, for instance, a pair of shoes.

I think I have always felt that way. I remember several years ago when I was representing a client who was suing to collect a debt. He called me to tell me we had to set the hearing on the case after he took a “little trip” to Las Vegas. I set the case, and then when I saw him again after his “little trip,” I asked him how he had fared. “Terrible,” he said. “I lost $1,100.”

I looked at him for a minute, and said, “Tom, for that money, I could have five or six pairs of shoes.”

His mouth opened. “How much do your shoes cost?” he asked.

I retorted, “What difference does it make? I would have five or six pairs of shoes. You’ve got nothing!” He had nothing else to say.

Regardless of my natural skepticism, however, I had to jump into the lottery game this past week when the jackpot exceeded $700 million. It was just too much to walk away from without a try — and we all know the end of that story.

Why I don’t feel that pull when the jackpot is a measly $17 million, I don’t know. I’m sure I could take care of all my needs with a payout of $8 million or so. Heck, I was even hoping for a pittance win of $50,000, which, apparently, several people won when they matched most of the numbers last Saturday. But it was not to be.

I didn’t let myself even wonder what I would do with the money, because I knew it wouldn’t be coming my way. Now that it’s over, though, I speculate as to what I really would do with that much money. After all, how much money does one person need? Or two? Or, as Emily would probably insist, three? Much less than $8 million, and certainly much less than $500 million.

The first thing I would do if I won the lottery would be to thank all my long-lost relatives and friends for showing up to congratulate me. Then I would tell them they were a little late, because I had already talked to a lawyer about establishing a couple of foundations that would help people who need help. Maybe someday, I will share the objects of those pie-in-the-sky foundations, but for today, I’ll just mention I would like to do that.

Then I would do the usual: I would show up at work the next day and go to the calendar to find out when I could take a vacation. I would someday like to see Ireland, because that’s where my roots are, and Italy, because Emily has been there (twice!) and says it’s fabulous; both of those trips would take a little time. And then, I would go about the business that I do every day, because even winning $500 million wouldn’t make me less lucky to be able to earn a living doing things I love – writing, music, teaching, and the law.

In the end, I wish for those lucky winners to have an idea about who they are and what they need before they start writing checks. Maybe they won’t need two yachts after all.

Deborah Mitchell is a a local attorney and a Municipal Court Judge.

Deborah Mitchell is a a local attorney and a Municipal Court Judge.

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