My Powerball Dreams

When the Powerball lottery jackpot rose to $450 million back in December, I bought a lottery ticket for the first time in more than 20 years. Back in college, my friends and I would give each other scratch-off tickets as birthday gifts, but I’m a grown-up and I know they are a waste of money. As Marla Daniels said, “The game is rigged, and you cannot lose if you do not play.”

STILL. $450 million is fun to fantasize about, so I bought a ticket, and our family spent a couple of hours on New Years’ weekend talking about what we’d do it we won. At the time, I couldn’t think of anything beyond the standards: buy a beach house, and fund the college accounts of all the kids in the family. Needless to say, we didn’t win. Then last week, I noticed that the jackpot was on the rise once again, and I started to think again what I’d do if I came into that much money. Here’s what I’m going to do with them money when they hit my numbers:

  1. Buy a newspaper: Not a single paper, like the whole dang thing. Maybe I’ll buy the Oakland Tribune or, less likely, the San Francisco Chronicle, and turn it into a non-profit. I’d hire a lot of writers to cover a lot of local and state beats, and show the country what local, well-funded journalism could look like. I don’t need for it to make money; I need for it to tell stories and break news. [Estimated cost: $15 million to purchase and $2-5 million a year for improvements]
  2. Open a second run movie theater and program it like Doc Films. There would be Gregory Peck movies for 10 Tuesdays in a row; Fred Astaire movies every afternoon at 1:30 pm. I’d have guest curators and historical tie-ins. The theater would be tiny. Again, not a big money maker. [Estimated cost: $4 million to start and $400,000 to run annually].
  3. Open a bookstore, but not in my neighborhood. We have two indie bookstores in my neighborhood, and they appear to be thriving. I’d open mine in a neighborhood that needed small businesses. It would be small and have primarily cheap used books. There was a place near me growing up that paid 30 cents on the dollar for used books and then sold them for 50 cents on the dollar. I like that business model. There would be lots of reading spaces so people can treat it like a library if they want, but they have to be reading, not on their phones the whole time. [Estimated cost: $250,000 per location per year]
  4. Found a community arts center. We need more spaces for book readings, music and dance performances, and art installations, and I want the programming to be constant and eclectic. There would be studio space for art classes and conference spaces for writing groups and book clubs. [Estimated cost: $5 million for space, $2 million to run annually]. It’s possible the movie theater could be in this space to save money.
  5. I’d open a DIY space called Home Ec. I’ve had this idea for awhile and it might even be a business, not a non-profit. The idea is a large space with kitchens and crafting areas, such as looms and pottery wheels, with lots of crafting and cooking classes. There’d be brewing and knitting and spinning and quilting and pickling and yadda yadda yadda. It would also have a store to buy supplies and then another part where people could sell all their stuff, like a land-based Etsy store. [Estimated cost: $3 million]
  6. If I win less than the whole Powerball (and thus putting off my dream of the community arts center), I would open a shared writers’ space, like the San Francisco Writers Grotto. [Estimate cost: $3 million]
  7. Repair and upgrade all the sports fields in Oakland. [Estimated cost: $17 million – 67 fields @ $250,000 each]
  8. Fund national gun research [$100 million]

I think these last two are the responsibility of the general public and of our government, which is why they are last. It should not be the responsibility of rich individuals (except through higher taxes) to fund things like public facilities and public health research, but if I have insane amounts of money, those are two things I think would be good.

My start-up costs on all these combined is $147,250,000, with ongoing costs of $9.4 million. The cash value of today’s powerball jackpot is $205 million. I assume half of that will be gone to taxes, so I realize I’m going to have to make some tough and creative decisions about how to spend my money once I win (errr, play). But I’m up for the challenge.

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