Why You Shouldn’t Play the Lottery

A lottery is a gambling game in which tickets are sold for the chance to win prizes, often money. State-sponsored lotteries are usually governed by laws that establish their organization and procedures. Most states have a lottery division that administers the operation, selecting and licensing retailers, training their employees to use lottery terminals, selling tickets and redeeming winning tickets, promoting the games, paying high-tier prizes, and ensuring that retailers and players comply with state law and rules.

People spend upward of $100 billion a year on lottery tickets, and there are plenty of success stories. But the vast majority of people who play don’t win, and many find themselves worse off as a result. And if governments are in the business of promoting gambling, they should be asking whether it’s worth the expense of encouraging a vice with such a high cost to those who play.

The word lottery derives from the Dutch noun “lot” (fate), which probably is a calque of Middle Dutch loterie, the action of drawing lots for various purposes, especially at dinner parties. It was common in the Low Countries to hold lotteries to raise funds for poor relief.

There is a regressive aspect to lottery playing: The bottom quintile of households spends more of their income on tickets than any other group. But there’s also a more fundamental reason that lottery playing should be discouraged: The chances of winning are very slim. Those odds don’t make the game any less addictive, and there are many ways to increase your chances of winning without spending much money at all.

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