Call me crazy, but I just can’t stop thinking about Mavis Wanczyk.
Since she claimed her Powerball jackpot last week, the former hospital worker from Chicopee has been on my mind constantly. When I wake up in the morning, I wonder if she’s sleeping in or if she’s sleeping at all. Smarting at my bills, I wonder whether Wanczyk has been on crazy shopping sprees, laden down with bags and boxes that will barely fit in the limousine. Or is she carefully consulting financial advisers, making prudent investments?
I worry about her, too. I’m afraid she’s made mistakes already. Rather than taking her time and forming a trust to collect her prize so that she could remain anonymous, she immediately quit her job and rushed to collect her $336 million after taxes. A press conference plastered her face on screens across the planet.
Now police are parking in her driveway. And scammers are using her name to try to gull people into handing over personal information. Some of the people asking the fake Mavises for help are not the brightest bulbs. You’d think they’d get suspicious when presented with barely literate Facebook updates like “i cant help any of you because i win with my money not yours .... When am poor did anyone of u ever help me.”
But, no. “Hey Mavis,” one supplicant writes, “if your thinking about donating...I need funding for a land project for stray cats and dogs.”
And how could Fake Mavis resist Rex? “If you are looking for a boy toy travel companion Pick Me. I know you can get younger, better looking guys...but no one will be more fun to hang with.”
Real Mavis is surely besieged by similar appeals.
While others might not be quite as obsessed, I’m not the only one thinking about Wanczyk these days. And that’s exactly what the folks who run the lottery count on. Winners like her are the best possible advertising.
“Especially when an ordinary person wins, you think, ‘Oh, that could be me,’ absolutely,” says Alex Tabarrok, an economics professor at George Mason University. The fact that Wanczyk is from Massachusetts somehow makes me feel certain I came closer than ever. That’s not even remotely true, of course. My chances were zero; I didn’t buy a ticket. But even if had, my chances would have been 1 in 292 million — barely more than zilch. Still, the illusion has me planning in granular detail how I’d handle my winnings (Hide, give a big chunk away, and travel — business class, because I’d stay humble).
It’s not rational. But nothing about the lottery is. For example, economists have determined that the poorer people feel, the more likely they are to buy lottery tickets, which will only make them poorer: Throwing away money on the lottery is an epidemic in struggling Chelsea.
We seem to be especially dippy here in Massachusetts, where we buy more lottery tickets per capita than anywhere in the nation — a whopping $746 per person in fiscal 2017. The $5 billion we spent on games of chance in 2017 returned about $1 billion to cities and towns. For every dollar spent on Powerball tickets, Massachusetts collects 42 cents. Its share of Wanczyk’s winnings was $24 million. We’d be sunk without those revenues.
Talk about a gambling addiction. But nobody around here seems in a mood to kick it.
That’s why the Mavis Wanczyks of the world are crucial. They keep us plonking down our cash, dreaming of what we’d do with the gazillions we’ll never see.Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeAbraham