Why You Shouldn’t Play the Lottery


A scheme for the distribution of prizes by lot or chance.

Unlike most other gambling, lotteries have no innate social or moral value. They’re just games of chance that make people spend money they could otherwise put toward more sensible things, like saving for a rainy day or paying off their credit card debt. It’s in that context that the ubiquity of lottery commercials on TV and highway billboards urging us to “Play for a better tomorrow” are so disturbing.

State governments have long used the lottery as a source of “painless” revenue – a way to raise money without imposing especially onerous taxes on working class and middle class taxpayers. This rationale has remained powerful even after the financial crisis of 2008, and state lotteries are now operating in more than 40 states.

Lottery revenues typically expand rapidly after they first launch, then level off and start to decline. To keep revenues up, state governments introduce new types of lottery games with smaller prize amounts. These innovations are aimed at appealing to people who might be bored with the same old lottery games.

People also play the lottery because it doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t care whether you’re black or white, rich or poor, Mexican or Chinese, short or tall, Democrat or Republican – all that matters to the lottery is whether you pick the right numbers. But there’s another reason to avoid playing the lottery: The odds of winning aren’t much better than random chance.