There’s an old saying that lotteries are taxes on stupid people, or people who can’t do math. It’s an aphorism I’ve tended to agree with. The odds are literally astronomical — at one in 146,107,962, that’s roughtly 1.5 times the distance from the earth to the sun in miles.
So, the people who play the various state-run games tend not to be the brightest. There’s an example of this in Massachusetts right now, where a guy bought a bunch of scratch tickets, then scratched them in the store (a pet peeve of mine — will you just get the hell out of the way of other customers, like me?). He split them into a winning pile and a losing pile (three guesses which was taller), tossing the losers when he was done.
And also accidentally tossing a $1,000,000 winner in the trash.
Another potential Ph.D. candidate now enters the picture. This guy, apparently as a hobby, goes around and fishes discarded scratch tickets out of trash cans, looking for missed winning tickets. And this time he literally struck it rich. He grabbed it and high-tailed it out of the store.
So, what’s the first guy’s response?
Both guys have put forth their stories, and both have huge problems. The second guy says he found it in a trash can outside the store, but there are apparently security videos showing the recovery being made inside the store. And the first guy says he accidentally put the ticket in the “loser” pile, but I know if I’d hit a million bucks, I’d have quietly left the store with it tucked into my wallet and called a lawyer — not casually put it on a pile of tickets worth five and ten bucks each.
To me, it’s a simple case of “possession is 9/10ths of the law” and “finders keepers, losers weepers.” The first guy had it, and threw it away willingly. The second guy put the effort into going into a publicly-accessible trash can and fishing it out, so he earned it. Nobody made the first guy commit flagrant stupidity, and anyone else could have done what the second guy did and scored a jackpot.
But this is Massachusetts, after all. And it’s my prediction that the state will assess a 50% tax on the total jackpot, split it between the men, then take the full tax bill from both of them, taking back all the money.