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Luck of the Lotto

In my story, “Otto’s Lotto,” Otto dreams of an elusive bounty to solve his fiscal nightmare. He seems to have finally hit the jackpot with his lottery number. His financial woes look as though they are forever relegated to the rearview mirror.

All over the world, lottery players have dreamed of hitting the jackpot. Let’s look at a brief history of the lottery, the state of the lottery today, and what the odds may actually be of the “lucky” winners ultimately enjoying their windfalls. 


Between 205 and 187 BCE, keno slips (cards in games of chance) were used in China during the Han dynasty. These were employed in the first known lottery to fund public works. These lotteries are believed to have financed major government projects, notably the Great Wall of China.

The first known European lotteries date back to the Roman Empire; these were raffles with prizes at lavish dinners. The first recorded lotteries to offer tickets for sale with prizes in the form of money date to the fifteenth century in the Benelux Countries (Belgium, Netherlands, and Luxembourg). Proceeds were used to support the poor and to fund public projects. The English word, “lottery” finds its origin in the Dutch noun, “lot,” meaning “fate.” England joined the lottery trend in 1566 under the auspices of Queen Elizabeth I. Prior to the establishment of the United States of America, lotteries in the colonies funded the establishment of Princeton and Columbia Universities, as well as the University of Pennsylvania. And at the outset of the Revolutionary War, the Continental Congress used lotteries to support the Colonial Army.

Though lotteries continued to be popular throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the early twentieth century saw a marked drop in such ventures, which had largely become illegal in the USA and in many parts of Europe. The lottery made a comeback in the 1960s; it is still wildly popular today, as it is played in all but five states. In my story, Otto lives in Idaho, a state which has an official lottery. It was established in 1989 through a voter-approved constitutional amendment. Though Otto has never before played the lotto, he has heard about the winners of Powerball, Mega Millions, and Wild Card 2, and he longs to join their ranks.

Of course, the odds of actually winning any official state-run lotteries are miniscule. Yet the fantasy entices people to spend billions of dollars annually. Of course, someone does win. What happens to those winners after the fanfare has died down?

Robert Pagliarini, a tax advisor, cautions against the unsustainable high associated with what he terms “the honeymoon stage of sudden wealth.’’ Though it would appear that winning the lotto would be everyone’s dream come true, fears of being robbed or scammed can dampen a winner’s initial joy. 

Pagliarini told Business Insider that each winner should assemble a financial dream team, including an attorney, a tax specialist, and a financial advisor to help secure sunny financial horizons. Yet most of those who hit the jackpot fail to do so. And without competent financial guides, a winner may find that even his friends and relatives could seek to take advantage of him, peeling away his new-found wealth. This extreme and disproportionate generosity and the winner’s own mega shopping sprees will typically (in 70% of cases) later find him groveling at bankruptcy court.

But will Otto be plagued by such dangers, or will his dreams uncover surprising hidden treasure?


  1. “Lottery,” Wikipedia
  2. Katie Canales and Katie Balevic, “The $700 Million Powerball Jackpot is Up for Grabs. Here are Disappointing Stories That Reveal What it’s Really Like to Win the Lottery,” Insider, Feb. 4, 2023
  3. “Is Idaho Getting Rid of the Lottery?” in The Doughnut Whole, 2021.
  4. Keith Dunlap, “Rip up the Winning Ticket? 5 Reasons why Winning Lottery can Destroy Lives,” News4Jax, Jan. 12, 2023

Pie in the Sky and Other Stories is available for purchase in both Kindle and paperback at Amazon.com!