Why You Should Avoid the Lottery


A competition based on chance, in which numbered tickets are sold and prizes are awarded to those whose numbers are drawn at random. Lotteries are commonly organized by states or other entities as a means of raising funds.

The word “lottery” is derived from the Middle Dutch word lot, meaning fate or luck, and the Old English lotteria or “action of drawing lots.” The term has been in use in England for more than 500 years, with the first state lottery established in 1569. The practice soon spread to the colonies, with Benjamin Franklin holding a lottery to raise money for cannons to defend Philadelphia during the American Revolution. Lotteries also helped finance European settlement of America, and were common in the early colonies despite Protestant proscriptions against gambling.

Lottery commissions know that the promise of instant riches is a powerful lure for people who don’t have much of anything to begin with. That’s why their advertising messages and product design are geared toward keeping players hooked. The slick, glossy advertisements on billboards and TV screens feature large jackpot amounts that appeal to the human desire for wealth.

But there are a few reasons to avoid the lottery. For starters, the odds of winning are very low. Only a small percentage of players win, and the rest lose more than they win. Moreover, playing the lottery is expensive and may make you feel like a sucker for spending your hard-earned dollars on something so unreliable.

Another important consideration is the way that lottery money is used. Lottery profits have often been used to reduce the burden of taxes on working families. During the boom years of the immediate postwar period, it was possible for states to expand their social safety nets without significantly increasing the cost of taxation on the poor and working class. But, as Cohen recounts, this arrangement began to erode in the late nineteen seventies and eighties, when income gaps widened, pensions and job security declined, health-care costs soared, and our long-standing national promise that hard work would pay off in the form of financial security grew hollow.

Lottery profits have become an increasingly popular way for states to cut taxes. Lottery revenue is often used to offset cuts in other areas, such as education, and the result can be a less generous public sector. In addition, lottery proceeds aren’t immune to the same forces that undermine other forms of taxation: a rising interest rate can drive down the value of the prize, and inflation will reduce the purchasing power of any future payouts. As a result, the economics of lotteries don’t add up. For all these reasons, we shouldn’t encourage more people to spend their hard-earned money on the hope that they will win the big jackpot.