Is Playing the Lottery a Wise Financial Decision?


If you’ve ever dreamed of winning millions of dollars with just a couple of ticket purchases, you’re not alone. But is playing the lottery really a wise financial decision?

The first state-sponsored lotteries took shape in the Low Countries in the 15th century, with advertisements emblazoned with the word “loterie” printed as early as 1569. These were designed to raise money for town fortifications and to help the poor.

Eventually, states began looking for solutions to budgetary crises that wouldn’t enrage their anti-tax electorates, and lotteries rose in popularity. They resembled gambling in many ways, and ad campaigns and the math of the games were specifically designed to keep people buying more and more tickets.

To do this, they raised the prize pool by lifting jackpot caps and adding more numbers to the game. This boosted the odds of winning, but not necessarily the size of the winner’s check.

In fact, winning the lottery can sometimes leave you worse off than before. People who have won massive jackpots have sometimes been forced to sell off assets or even downsize their homes. Others have found themselves unable to manage the enormous sums they have won, and have fallen into debt or even become addicted to gambling.

While you might have a slight chance of becoming rich, your state and federal government are the real winners in the lottery system. Almost 40% of your ticket purchase goes toward commissions for the retailers and overhead for the lottery system itself. These proceeds are then split between the prize pool and state governments, which often use them to support infrastructure, education, or gambling addiction initiatives.