The Truth About Playing the Lottery

Lots of people love to play the lottery. They dream about the things they would buy if only they had the money, and how much life could be different if they won. They are not alone – Americans spend over $80 Billion every year on lottery tickets. That’s over $600 a household, or about a third of their discretionary spending! This amount could be used to pay for a family’s emergency fund or to wipe out credit card debt. Instead, it is spent on lottery tickets, which don’t actually increase your chances of winning by any significant margin.

While making decisions and determining fates by casting lots has a long record of use in human history (and several instances in the Bible), lotteries as an instrument for material gain are relatively recent. The first public lottery was established during the reign of Augustus Caesar to finance municipal repairs in Rome, and state lotteries came into widespread use after the Civil War to raise funds for social welfare programs.

State officials largely determine how lottery proceeds are to be spent, and develop extensive and specific constituencies for them. These include convenience store owners and lottery suppliers (heavy contributions to state political campaigns are reported); teachers (in states where lotteries are earmarked for education); state legislators, who become accustomed to a steady stream of supplemental revenue; and, of course, the general public, which has come to see the lottery as an attractive alternative to other sources of income.