Should People Play the Lottery?

A lottery is a gambling game or method of raising funds in which tickets are sold for the chance to win prizes determined by random drawing. The word has also come to refer to any process whose outcome depends on chance, such as a selection of unit assignments in a subsidized housing block or kindergarten placements in a public school.

Lotteries have a long history. In the Bible, God instructed Moses to divide land by lottery; the Roman emperors used it as a form of gift distribution during Saturnalian feasts and other entertainments. The lottery was brought to the United States by British colonists, and at first there was a great deal of opposition, with ten states banning it from 1844 to 1859.

Whether or not people should play the lottery is an important question, one that is difficult to answer definitively. For some people, the entertainment value or other non-monetary benefits of playing a lottery can outweigh the disutility of monetary loss. This makes the purchase a rational decision for those individuals.

But for many others, the lure of winning big is just too much to resist. I’ve interviewed countless lottery players—people who have been playing for years, often spending $50 or $100 a week. They don’t seem to know the odds are bad, or at least they convince themselves that the fact that there are millions of dollars on the line somehow makes it OK. They have an inextricable impulse to gamble, and the lottery is a good way to satisfy that.

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