I HAND THE newsstand guy $10 for a pack of gum a couple of weeks ago, and he says, "Want to play the Powerball?

It's over $500 million."

I never buy lottery tickets. I don't understand what "box it" means, let alone the side games. I don't have a series of "lucky numbers," except the nine numbers on my Social Security check. That's my personal lottery, and I "win" every month.

When friends play the Powerball, I tell them, "My chances of winning are the same as yours, and I didn't even buy a ticket." Technically not true. Their chance of winning was 175 million to 1. Mine was zero.

But how can I turn my back on half a billion ($288 million after taxes if you take the cash payout)? That would be irresponsible. Think of all the good I could do with that money. Think of all the bad. Think of all the ex-wives that windfall would piss off. So I hand the guy a buck and he tells me it's $2. Like I said, I don't play.

I buy the ticket. As I walk back to the office, I do what all lottery players do: I dream. Players don't really expect to win, but we do dream about what we would do with half a billion. Quit my job? Not a chance. I love what I do. But . . .

I'd make the current owners an offer they couldn't refuse - their $55 million initial investment back. They'd give themselves a hernia jumping at that. As the new owner, I'd stalk the office like the Grim Reaper firing the incompetent "leadership" that got us here, then I'd hire back a bunch of great people who were let go, forced out or left in disgust.

Dreams are the magic carpet of the lottery, but the elites don't seem to get that. They call lotteries a "tax on the poor" who, through their lottery tickets, fund an "unfair" portion of social services.

A 2011 paper in the Journal of Gambling Studies reported that "the poor are still the leading patron of the lottery."

Duh! There are more poor people than rich people, and their dreams have yet to be fulfilled. No surprise there.

In Philadelphia, when elites talk about "the poor," they usually mean minorities, even though Philadelphians living in poverty are equally distributed between black and white, if Hispanics are lumped in with whites. If the lottery is a "tax," it is self-selected.

The demographic fact is that non-Hispanic whites and Native Americans play the lotto at the highest rates - 51 percent of each group plays, according to a University of Buffalo research paper published this year.

I'm told that lotteries are a bad bet, which is true.

There is a fairly widespread, and erroneous, belief among the elites that poor people are too stupid to understand that their chances of winning anything big are slim. Here's a flash, from a 2008 experimental study in the Journal of Behavioral Decision Making: The poor see the lottery as "a uniquely level playing field where everyone, rich or poor, has the same chance of winning."

I wouldn't have thought of that, and it sounds like democracy to me.

Since Pennsylvania's first lottery in 1972, $22.6 billion has been taken in, $3.48 billion last year. Just shy of $2 billion in prize money was distributed last year and a little more than $1 billion went to senior citizens. Pennsylvania is the only state lottery in the country benefiting seniors, according to lottery spokesman Gary Miller. The lottery supports property-tax and rent-rebate programs, prescription-assistance programs, free and reduced-rate shared rides, commuter-rail service for older adults, full- and part-time senior centers around the state, and more.

That's a lot of green to come from dreams.