Is the Lottery Worth the Gamble?

Lottery is a method of allocating goods or services, generally money, to recipients selected by chance, whether through a drawing or other process. The practice dates back centuries, with Moses being instructed to divide land among Israel’s people by lot and Roman emperors using lots to distribute slaves and other property. Modern state-sponsored lotteries are generally run by dedicated lottery divisions that select and train retailers to sell tickets, provide technical support for ticket scanning systems, redeem winning tickets, pay high-tier prizes, and perform other administrative duties.

Across the country, people spend more than $100 billion a year on lottery tickets. And while the chances of winning are incredibly slim—statistically there’s a much greater likelihood that you will be struck by lightning or become a billionaire than to win the Powerball—it is an addictive form of gambling.

Lottery marketing is designed to convey two main messages. The first is that the lottery is a fun experience, that you can take it lightly and simply enjoy scratching off those tickets. The second is that the lottery is a great way for states to raise revenue without increasing their tax burden on middle-class and working-class families. But that last point isn’t exactly true, and it obscures the fact that it can actually be regressive. In a time of growing inequality and limited social mobility, it is worth asking if the lottery’s improbable riches are actually worth the gamble. The answer is probably no.