American in Spain

Once - Greedy Altruism

January 16, 2007

Several weeks ago, Marga's employer invited all the employees out to a Christmas dinner. Somehow, Marga ended up managing the pool of money that was collected to pay for after-dinner drinks. When the night was over, there were 30€ left in the pool. It was decided that the remaining funds would be used to purchase lottery tickets. Due to the opening hours of the lottery ticket booth, I'm the one that has been going down there to buy the tickets. The first week, I bought three different numbers, with four tickets for each number. They have cleverly made each ticket cost 2.50€, which almost guarantees that no one will every buy an odd number of them. So I spent all 30€ on the 12 tickets.

Two of the numbers resulted in nothing at all. But the third matched the last two digits of the number drawn that week (a 1% chance), resulting in each of the four tickets I'd spent 2.50€ on being worth 6.00€, so we won 24€! Of course we didn't really win 24€, what really happened is that we lost 6€ of our original 30€!

So the second week, I had to go back to the lottery booth and buy more tickets. This time, I bought two numbers, four tickets each, and ended up with 4€ extra. I didn't feel like buying an odd number of tickets and dealing with the extra sub-euro change.

Keep in mind that our goal here is to get rid of the money. The second week, one of the numbers matched the last digit (a 10% chance), resulting in each of those four tickets being worth 2.50€ (the purchase price). So I bought four more tickets for this Friday. Hopefully, we'll lose the rest of the money (a 90% chance)...

I'm buying the tickets with ONCE, one of the many lottery systems available here in Spain. ONCE, pronounced "own-they", from what I can tell, stands for the "Organización Nacional de Ciegos" (National Organization of Blind People). It's an organization that only hires disabled people. So, by purchasing lottery tickets, you're helping employ disabled people.

What a perfect way to combine the probability-blind, lazy, human greed for free money with the desire to make an altruistic donation to a charitable organization. It almost makes playing the lottery not such an idiotic thing to do.

And what a great way to get rid of surplus common funds from a night out...except for the poor schmuck who didn't even get to go out and that has to go buy tickets every week when you keep winning.

"once" is also the Spanish word for "eleven".