There were a couple of things that bugged me about the guy who won the Powerball jackpot last week — and neither of them was that it was Pedro Quezada instead of me. After all, he had a slight advantage, in that he’d actually purchased a ticket, which I never do.
The first thing that annoyed me was the fact that he’s a deadbeat dad. He has five kids between 5 and 23 years old. I don’t know how many mothers there are, but it turns out Pedro is $29,000 behind in his child support payments. Sure, it’s tough making ends meet when you own a small bodega in the neighborhood, but if he had money problems, he should not have been buying lottery tickets. That’s the biggest problem with lotteries — the people who play most often, losing the most money, are the ones who can least afford it. People at the bottom end of the economic scale, the ones who don’t have disposable income and don’t understand probability, should not be repeatedly wasting cash on a 175-million-to-1 shot.
It may have paid off big time for Pedro, but sadly his win will only encourage others to keep throwing their money away. That’s why lotteries make a big deal of winners in press conferences without announcing how much money was lost by everyone else to build the big jackpots.
Fortunately, lottery officials can garnish the $29,000 in back child support out of Pedro’s winnings ($152 million after taxes). I’d also hope that the mother(s) of his children would return to court to demand more child support from the no-longer-deadbeat-dad, perhaps with a little extra for themselves for having to raise the kids without his help while chasing him down for a check every month.
The second thing that bothered me was the reaction from Pedro’s hometown in the Dominican Republic. In media reports last week, one member of his family said they always knew he would make it in America, while a man who’s known him since childhood said Pedro has emigrated to New York because “he wanted the American dream.”
That’s not the American dream. That’s not “making it in America.” That’s not what immigrants are (or should be) envisioning when they decide to pick up and leave their homeland to start a new life here. They come to America (excuse me, Neil Diamond) for the opportunities available in our free society. Just like US citizens, they want to get a job, make some money, perhaps start a business, raise a family, and live a happy and proud life. They don’t dream of becoming instant gazillionaires because of dumb luck. There are plenty of kids in his country who dream of following in Albert Pujols’ footsteps by working hard and becoming one of the best baseball players in the world, but no one’s sitting in a slum in Santo Domingo thinking, “Some day, I’m going to move to America so I can win the Powerball jackpot.”
If they are, they’re destined to live not the American dream, but a life of deadbeat disappointment.
Updated 5:39pm…CNN is reporting that Pedro paid the back child support to the mother of 3 of his kids in a New Jersey court today. Pedro informed the judge that the children will be living with him. Let’s hope he takes care of them — and the other two.