What have we learned?

IF WE WIN is an ongoing research project, meant to raise and explore a broad set of questions that live with us in the distance between money and wealth. While this project does not hope to find definitive answers, you will find pieces of the data collected here, in order to better inform your own questions, and to allow you to sit with the uncertainty they bring in the company of others who have done before.

Most of the data collected comes from a performative exchange: 
3 participants at a time are given a lottery ticket with a top prize of no less than $25,000 per person; in return, they agree to each set down in writing a plan for spending their winnings. If they win, the ticket is theirs to cash. If they lose, the ticket enters the archives of the research project, along with the written plan.


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You can see excerpts from the archives below,

read transcripts of past sessions,

or see the research questions contributed by participants.


Researchers or Artists interested in accessing raw data from participants (with personal details withheld) may contact the artist directly.


Participants in IF WE WIN are offered the chance to add research questions to the piece, which are (gradually) answered here below.


Answered Research Questions

What is the National Average Debt?

The latest findings from Northwestern Mutual’s 2020 Planning & Progress Study reveal that among Americans who carry debt, a third (33%) of their monthly income goes toward paying it off, exclusive of mortgages. Those with debt report having $26,621 on average, and 13% of Americans expect to be in debt the rest of their lives. Among U.S. adults carrying debt, 58% say it has a substantial or moderate impact on their ability to achieve long term financial security. Additionally, many report that debt impacts their ability to reach major financial milestones: 36% delayed significant purchases 29% delayed saving for retirement 18% delayed buying a home 8% delayed having children 7% delayed marriage updated 9/13/21 Signs of Progress…Before the Storm There are some positive indications in the data that suggest Americans have been making progress in their ability to manage and reduce debt over the last several years. But it’s important to note that this year’s findings were collected just prior to the steepest impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak. Even so, it is worth noting the trend lines: The total average debt among those who have it has been slowly declining over the years – from just over $38,000 in 2018 to $29,800 in 2019 to $26,621 this year Of those with some debt, over two thirds (67%) have a specific plan to pay it off Over a quarter (26%) of Americans report having no debt The Credit Card Crunch Credit card bills (22%) and mortgages (21%) are the leading sources of debt for Americans. Car loans (8%) and personal education loans (8%) came in as the next highest sources of debt. Of the 42% Americans who report holding credit card debt, the average amount is $5,400. Of that debt, over half (52%) went toward paying for absolute necessities like rent, utilities and groceries; 36% was for discretionary expenses such as entertainment, vacations, or dining out; and 11% was used for educational expenses. The study also found: 30% of U.S. adults either always or often pay the minimum payment on their credit card bills, just covering the interest without paying down any principal 33% pay greater than a 15% interest rate on their cards, and 9% don’t know what interest rate they’re paying 12% expect to be in credit card debt between 11 and 20 years, and 7% expect their credit card debt to last more than 20 years There also appears to be a bit of a learning curve when it comes to credit card usage. More than six in ten Americans with credit card debt (61%) said that if given the choice, they would have changed the way they used credit cards in the past. 56% would have limited their use of credit cards to primarily cover necessities 37% would have gained a better understanding of interest rates 23% would have waited to get a card until they really needed one

What is the National Average proportion of income which goes to rent?

For the US in 2019, median monthly gross rent as a fraction of median household income was 20.03% 39.4 percent of residents in renter-occupied housing units, paid gross rent which exceeded 35 percent of their income.
Pennsylvania Median Annual Rent as a Fraction of Median Household Income 17.98%

However, a CNBC report found that the averages rent and salary compare to produce in Philadelphia look pretty different from the rest of the state:
Median monthly rent (listing, 1BR): $1,355 Annual mean salary: $55,520 Rent/share of salary: 29%

*2018 data from both real estate site Zillow and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Updated October, 2019

What is the Salary of the head of the PA Lottery? Is the organization tax exempt? An NGO? How is it run?

According to PennWATCH, William Svitko, the Executive Director of the PA Lottery makes $148,558 a year.

Further Research in process. Answers will appear here when available.

From IFW002.
Updated 9/13/21

What are the tax brackets in PA?

Since 2004, the Personal Income Tax rate in Pennsylvania has been 3.07%

States either have no income tax (Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington and Wyoming), a flat rate, or in some cases progressive tax brackets. Hawaii has as many as 12 (Hawaii, ranging from 1.4%-11% $2,400-$200,000), while California’s can be as high as 13.3% for income over $599,012.

More details can be found here.

From IFW002
Updated 9/13/21

How many Philadelphians are Rent Burdened?

About 231,000 Philadelphia households—or about 529,000 people—were cost-burdened in 2018, the last year for which data was available. In that year, 40% of the city’s households were cost-burdened, a figure that is in line with many other major cities. Surprisingly, perhaps, that rate has fallen slightly in Philadelphia in the past decade—it was 43% in 2009—largely due to an increase in the number of high-income households, for which cost burden tends to be low.

Source: Pew Trust

From IFW003
Research Assistance by Lilly Roman
Updated 9/13/21

How much does Bill Gates make?

According to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Bill Gates' net worth is $133.3 Billion Dollars.

From IFW003
Research Assistance by Lilly Roman
Updated 9/13/21

What is the scratch-off made of? Is it bad for the environment?

The scratchcard itself is made of paper-based card, or plastic, with hidden information such as PIN or HRN (Hidden Recharge Number) printed on it, covered by an opaque substance (usually latex). The original cards were covered with an environmentally unsafe solvent based coating. In the late 1980s, adhesive specialist Jerome Greenfield invented a safe water-based coating still used in scratchers today that can be scratched off relatively easily, while resistant to normal abrasion. Other types of scratch panel are scratch labels, hot stamp foil or 'sandwich' label which are technologies that is easy to produce for manufacturers without specialised equipment for applying latex panels. Unlike silkscreen latex panels that bond with the card body, labels are distinctly separate to the card body and applied by adhesion which makes them prone to sophisticated and fraudulent manipulation. They are composed of "nontoxic, nonhazardous ingredients" that are tested and meet federal Environmental Protection Agency standards. The ink, coating films and the paperboard on which the games are printed are all nontoxic, nonhazardous, recyclable and biodegradable
Source: From IFW003 Research assistance by Lilly Roman. Updated 9/13/21

How much do giant novelty checks cost? Where do we get those made?

Short answer: between $29.99 and $39.99, plus shipping costs, which run ~$10-15.

Long Answer:

oh boy
So, first off—

What are we calling a "big check?"

According to Big Check Store,

The proper size for your check will be determined upon how many people are in the presentation and how far away the camera-person is located. When one person is giving a check to one other person, then an 18"x36" Big Check Size will be a good size to use. When using that size you will also want the photographer to be about 10 feet away because it will be easiest. A 22"x48" Large Check Size would work best for 2-6 people because it will make the words really easy to read and keep the check looking large. If there are a lot of people in a photo, like 7 or more, then it will make an 18"x36" seem smaller. Choosing a 30"x60" Giant Check Size will be perceived as bigger by comparison.

Football stadiums are an example of somewhere that the biggest check size would work out better because of how far your audience will be viewing it from. Our non-standard size is 47x94 which is recommended for people to see from a long-distance away. We have a way to hinge this check size so it can still be portable and carried from stadium to car.

18"x36" seems to be a pretty standard "small size," and those are the ones that will run you between $29.99 and $39.99 for a standard print - which I will confess is less than I had expected. Even the Giant Check Size above will only run you between $66-$130, the latter being if you add lamination to make the check a dry erase check, which is apparently quite the popular option (in the case of the lottery, you're often not allowed to keep the check, so there is likely some re-use going on).

Where do they come from?

Speaking to local printers, a few of them have assured me that they can do it, but when pressed, they have all revealed that "we have someone who does that custom for us." Incidentally, the person who does it custom for them charges $29.99, and $10 for shipping. Attempts to find a local printer in Philly have been unsuccessful, but I'll keep at it and keep you posted.

Online distributors like Big Check Printing or Big Check Store seem to all have one centralized printing center (CA and CT, respectively), and then to ship nationwide (Big Check Printing lists many regional locations, but those actually just represent the regions they ship to; all of the checks get made in one place). Seems the people who make these specialize in doing so, and most other companies just order from them.

Of course, there's nothing to stop you from simply generating the image file and printing it on a large piece of, say, foamboard - but that would cost about $49.99 in Philadelphia, so not much gained. Maybe best left to the professionals.

What are they made of? Coroplast seems the standard basic option, but you'll also find them on styrene, PVC, or corrugated white cardboard.

How much do you have to win to get the big check anyway?

It varies state by state. Where does this whole "giant check" thing come from anyway? Here's where it gets a bit wild. Chris Stokel-Walker did a thoughtful piece on the rise and fall of paper checks for "The Message" in 2015. Among his many discoveries was what appears to be the first recorded photo of a giant check being exchanged see ullstein bild / ullstein bild via Getty Images That is Joseph Goebbels, in 1936, being presented a check for 200,000 deutschmarks by Nazi politician Julius Lippert. After recovering from the shock the origin of the jumbo check (or maybe, in some way the internet has conditioned us to feel, the tiresome absence of surprise), writer Kelly Conaboy does a good job tracing the surprising path from Reichstag to Publisher's Clearing House and the influence of photojournalism in her piece for The Outline, which includes a nice nod to the precursor of the lottery, "cheer checks" which were run through newspapers.

From A001

Updated 6/7/21

How much can you Venmo someone? Is there a limit?

According to Venmo, if you haven't completed their Identity Verification process, your weekly spending limit is $299.99. If you have given Venmo additional personal data in order to verifiy your identity, your combined weekly spending limit is $6,999.99.

For an individual transaction, the limits are $4,999.99 for a person-to-person transaction, and $2,999.99 for a merchant transaction.

Venmo also has a $2,999.99 limit on individual purchases on their "Venmo Mastercard," because apparently that is a thing they do now. Additionally, you are limited to $20,000 in cryptocurrency purchases per week., and there is also a limit of $50,000 in cryptocurrency purchases in a 12-month period.

Because apparently that is a thing they do now.

From A001

Updated 10/15/21


Wasn't there some kind of "Bitcoin Cruise" at some point?

Short answer no. Long answer, batten down your hatches, because this quite the voyage.

In fact, plans were indeed made to launch the Satoshi, the world's first cryptocurrency cruise ship. But rather than being a traditional cruise, this was an attempt to help establish a "Seasteading" community living a regulations-and-tax free life in the seas off of Panama, in a community of cruiseship cabins and personalized floating pods arranged to form the shape of the bitcoin logo.

Shockingly, this plan did not turn out to be as straightforward as its founders had envisioned, and unexpected delays and costs were rampant, so much so that the project was officially scrapped with the boat halfway across the Atlantic to Panama, before anyone actually began living in the proposed ocean utopia.

You can hear the whole wild story reported in great detail in The Guardian.

From Gallery Guest, September 9th, 2021

Updated 6/7/21

Where does PA Lottery Money come from - anywhere else?

The Pennsylvania Lottery announced August 2nd, 2021 that it generated record profits of more than $1.3 billion in the latest fiscal year, driven by more than $5 billion in traditional games sales, such as scratch-off tickets and multi-state draws. Scratch-offs made up almost 71% of lottery sales for the year ending in June, totaling nearly $3.8 billion, up 17% from the year prior, state records showed. Draw games, such as Powerball and Mega Millions, accounted for 25% with $1.3 billion in sales, while the Pick 3 game was the third most popular $305 million, accounting for nearly 5.8% of sales. Online games, started in May 2018, continue to grow, the Lottery said, with almost $887 million in sales, up nearly $156 million from the previous fiscal year. From IFW003 Source: Research assistance by Lilly Roman. Updated 10/25/21

What % of Americans make what incomes?

In 2019, a little more than 53 percent of Americans had an annual household income that was less than 75,000 U.S. dollars. The median household income increased for the fifth consecutive year, reaching 68,703 U.S. dollars. From IFW005 Source: Research assistance by Lilly Roman. Updated 10/25/21

Do States take some cuts of winnings?

Your winnings are subject to the Commonwealth's 3.07 percent state personal income tax and federal taxes, 24 percent. The Pennsylvania Lottery automatically withholds taxes for winnings more than $5,000 From IFW005 Source: Updated 10/25/21

Is the money from the lottery actually going to the "52 area agencies on aging" the lottery claims?

In the 2019-20 fiscal year, the Pennsylvania Lottery sold nearly $4.47 billion in traditional games, from which it generated a profit of $1.14 billion to benefit older Pennsylvanians. In addition, a record of more than $2.9 billion in prizes was paid to traditional game winners. More than $639 million in prizes were paid out to online winners...The Pennsylvania Lottery remains the only state lottery that designates all its proceeds to programs that benefit older residents. In Philadelphia, that translated into nearly $300 million going to senior centers, prescription assistance, transportation, property tax and rental rebates, and care services. What are those organizations? Adams County Allegheny County Armstrong County Bradford County Beaver County Bedford County Berks County Blair County Bucks County Butler County Cambria County Cameron County Carbon County Centre County Chester County Clarion County Clearfield County Clinton County Columbia County Crawford County Cumberland County Dauphin County Delaware County Elk County Erie County Fayette County Forest County Franklin County Fulton County Greene County Huntingdon County Indiana County Jefferson County Juniata County Lackawanna County Lancaster County Lawrence County Lebanon County Lehigh County Luzerne County Lycoming County McKean County Mercer County Mifflin County Monroe County Montgomery County Montour County Northhampton County Northumberland County Perry County Philadelphia County Pike County Potter County Schuylkill County Snyder County Somerset County Sullivan County Susquehanna County Tioga County Union County Venango County Warren County Washington County Wayne County Westmoreland County Wyoming County York County From MMM001 Source: Research assistance by Lilly Roman. Updated 10/25/21

How much does a money manager cost?

Money managers typically charge management fees ranging from 0.5% to 2% per annum, depending on the portfolio size. For example, an asset management firm may charge a 1% management fee on a $1 million portfolio. In dollar terms, this equals a $10,000 management fee. Source The profession of daily money managers is small, with the exact number of people in the business hard to come by. The American Association of Daily Money Managers has about 700 members — all of whom must agree to a background check — scattered across the U.S., with a few in Canada... The cost for a daily money manager ranges from about $75 to $150 an hour, depending on location and specific services. Source From CBT002 Research assistance by Lilly Roman. Updated 10/25/21

How much are old pennies worth?

A modified version of the Sheldon Scale, which grades coins on a scale from 1 to 70 (with 70 being the most valuable), is commonly used. Qualities such as color (red pennies are worth more than red-brown or brown ones), wear and rarity (including smaller numbers minted or mistakes) impact a coin’s grade. Most wheat cents (wheat pennies were minted between 1909 and 1956) are worth about 4 to 5 cents. Those in better condition can have double-digit value. Special examples (especially those in near perfect condition) can be worth much more. Indian Head pennies from 1859 to 1879 are generally worth more than $10. And pennies dated from 1879 to 1909 are worth at least $1. For more information on painfully expensive pennies: Most expensive penny sold: 1943-D Lincoln Bronze Penny Private sale: $1,700,000

  • There’s only one known example of a 1943 Lincoln-D penny struck in bronze alloy instead of zinc-plated steel (bronze and copper were being saved to fill metal shortages during World War II).
  • Though there’s no record of any other bronze 1943 pennies minted in Denver (indicated by the "D" on the coin), up to 20 examples may have been struck on the bronze alloy at each of the Philadelphia and San Francisco Mints.
  • This particular coin was sold in September 2010 in a private sale by Legend Numismatics of Lincroft, New Jersey.
Gallery Guests Research assistance by Lilly Roman. Updated 10/25/21

How tall would $25,000 be in $1 bills?

389,890 centimeters 153,500 inches Approx. 12,791.667 feet Mt. Fuji stands at 12,388 ft elevation Approx. 914 stories Roughly 6 Burj Khalifas stacked on top of one another. Approx. 2.422664141666667 Miles A 60 minute walk for the average adult

What is the U.S. poverty threshold?

In 2020, about 37.25 million people were living below the poverty line in the United States. That is roughly 11.6% of the population. In 2020, 19.5% percent of Black people living in the United States were living below the poverty line. In comparison, 8.2% percent of White people, 8.1% percent of Asian people, and 17% of Hispanic people were under the poverty line. Source From IFW005 Research assistance by Lilly Roman. Updated 11/1/21

How many People does the PA Lottery employ? How many of them live in Pennsylvannia?

The PA Lottery has a staff of roughly 275 employees. Further Research in process. Answers will appear here when available. From IFW003 Research assistance by Lilly Roman. Updated 11/11/21

How many vendors sell PA Lottery tickets? How many people play?

The PA Lottery has a network of more than 9,600 retailers. Further Research in process. Answers will appear here when available. From IFW003 Research assistance by Lilly Roman. Updated 11/11/21

What is the average spending on lotto tickets?

When calculating lottery and casino spending per adult, Pennsylvania ranks 12th in the country, with an average of $743. (252 higher than the national average) Out of this, lottery ticket sales per adult average $410, and commercial casino consumer spending per adult averages $333. Combined spending on lottery tickets and in casinos totalled $7.6 billion in 2019, more than in every state except Nevada and New York.

Unanswered Research Questions



What are the Demographics of who is buying tickets?



What if someone unbanked wins the lottery?


Has anyone faked a ticket?


Is this gambling?


Who Plays the lottery (demographics)?

What is the average spending on lotto tickets?


Median percentile?


What are the thresholds like for losing money?

Bonus play again?



Did a game theory experiment in "Soviet Russia" prove that people will always accept what they are given?



What % of people are pathological gamblers? Is it genetic?

How do I avoid fees at my bank?


Is there a bird-name for ROSCAS?

What are the statistics of how long/severe income inequality must be before revolution starts, historically?


How common is fraud in the lottery? Is there a black market for stolen tickets? How does lottery fraud compare to vaccine card fraud?

Gallery Guests


When countries get rid of pennies/small currency units, is there a surplus/deficit?

How hard is it to steal stolen pennies?

What does "refinancing a mortgage" even mean?



Can you make a good playlist about money?

Does the "Happiness Treadmill" apply to lump sums, or annual incomes?

What is the average medical debt?




How much does Gus (the groundhog) cost? Is Gus trademarked? How many Gus' have there been?


What is the long term viability of Crypto? What's the point of it all?



What is the population of Greenland? Sierra Leone?

Does America have a credit score?



Where does the CEO of the Pennsylvania Lottery live?

What type of art does Mike make?

What determines the end of a scratch lottery game?

How often are top prizes unclaimed?

When the United States pays interest on its national debt, who is that interest going to? 

How much of our national debt is to China? How much of their debt is to the United States?

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