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Make money from a lottery? Don't be a fool

A trademark can be a number, like Lotto 6/49.

Kevin Van Paassen

Since it is April Fools' Day, we thought it might be a good time to look at a foolish money-spinning idea: The way many people play the lottery with an expectation of winning.

Yes, I know, I know -- you have to be in it to win it, and if I had won it, I wouldn't be hunched over in my miserable little cubicle before dawn every day. Still, the truth is, if you had invested the same amount money in just about anything else, you would make more than if you had bought a lottery ticket.

This nugget comes to us courtesy of J.D. Roth's GetRichSlowly blog, where he presents a handy-dandy lottery simulator. Pick six numbers and hold your breath as you wait to find out if you are a millionaire!

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In fact, Mr. Roth "played" the lottery using the simulator for the equivalent of twice a week for a thousand years. Here's what he found: He spent $104,000 and he got back $11,554. And, er, that's a total return of minus 89 per cent.

How likely are you to win a share of the Lotto 649 jackpot? The odds are one in 14 million, on average, the British Columbia Lottery Corp. says on its website. It is 300 times more likely that a 20-million tonne asteroid called Apophis will hit the Earth on April 13, 2036, the lottery corporation says, adding:

"If you spend $2 every week on the lottery, you would expect to wait about 270,000 years before you win a share of the jackpot."

Just for comparison, Mr. Roth points out that if a consumer invested a $100,000 lump sum in one of five common investments for a period of 30 years, a realistic inflation-adjusted return would be:

-Gold, real estate or savings account: $135,000

-Bonds: $200,000

-Stocks: $750,000

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Three other interesting points to consider:

The B.C. Lottery Corp. recommends that you download free BetStopper software from its website so that your kids aren't quietly gambling online. It points out that 43 per cent of kids in British Columbia say they have gambled in the past year.

The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. points out that you cannot improve your odds by playing the same numbers every week, picking numbers more often or less often than others in the past, or buying tickets from a store where a winning ticket was previously sold.

And finally, one of my colleagues reminds me that it doesn't help to buy a lottery ticket if you don't check to see whether you've won (apparently a source of tension with her busy husband). All lottery tickets have expiry dates, so if you're too pressed for time to check your ticket, don't bother even buying one.

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