Categories: Gambling

The Ubiquity of the Lottery

The lottery is a fixture in American life — it’s not only legal but hugely popular. People spent upward of $100 billion on tickets last year, and state lotteries have become a vital source of revenue. But the ubiquity of this form of gambling obscures its regressive nature and undermines the public’s understanding of how it works.

Lottery officials promote it as a harmless form of entertainment and have repackaged the idea of winning as a way to help “children.” But that message obscures the truth: Lottery play is mostly an exercise in redistribution, a way for richer states to extract money from lower-income communities. And while lottery funds do provide some benefits for those in need, they also divert resources from other areas of government.

Despite the regressive nature of this type of gambling, lottery sales have remained buoyant. Since New Hampshire launched the modern era of state lotteries in 1964, more than 37 states have introduced them.

When it comes to choosing numbers, Harvard statistics professor Mark Glickman suggests avoiding significant dates, like birthdays, and sequences that hundreds of other players might pick (like 1-2-3-4-5-7). This is because, if those numbers are drawn in a jackpot-sized drawing, you’ll have to split the prize with anyone who has the same number.

If you win the lottery, you have the option to accept a lump sum or annuity payment. The decision should be based on your financial goals and the applicable rules surrounding your specific lottery.

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