Why You Should Stop Playing the Lottery

People spend billions on lottery tickets every year. They play for fun, but they also believe that winning the lottery will make their lives better. But the odds of winning are very low, and winning will not solve financial problems such as paying off debt or creating an emergency fund. Americans should stop playing the lottery and instead use this money to build an emergency fund or pay off their credit card debt.

Making decisions and determining fates by the casting of lots has long history, with dozens of examples in the Bible, including instructions to Moses to take a census of the Israelites and divide land; Roman emperors used lotteries to give away property and slaves; and, later, private lotteries became popular in England and America. In the 17th century, Benjamin Franklin sponsored a lottery to raise funds for cannons to fight the British during the American Revolution and Thomas Jefferson attempted to hold one to help alleviate his crushing debts.

State and national lotteries generate more than $100 billion in sales each year. This is no small amount, but the business model seems simple enough: all ticket sales go into a pool and that pool gets distributed to winners. There are no specialized taxes or nefarious operators behind the scenes; it’s just like a raffle at the county fair.

But despite this simplicity, there are many critics of the lottery. Among their complaints are that the marketing of lotteries is deceptive, with ads often exaggerating the odds of winning; inflating the value of prizes won (lotto jackpot prizes are paid out in equal annual installments over 20 years, which allow inflation and taxes to dramatically erode the current value); and attracting low-income people by offering them hope for riches they would not otherwise have.