The Dangers of Lottery Gambling


A lottery is a form of gambling in which people pay for tickets and numbers are drawn by chance to win prizes. It is a popular form of fundraising for public goods and services, such as subsidized housing units, kindergarten placements, or sports team drafts. It has been used since ancient times, including in the Bible (Numbers 26:55-55) and Roman emperors to give away property and slaves during Saturnalian feasts and entertainment.

Scratch-off games are the bread and butter for lotteries; they’re about 65 to 70 percent of all lottery sales, and are disproportionately played by poorer players. Powerball and Mega Millions, the more upscale lotto games, are less regressive but still have significant share of sales; they’re mainly played by upper-middle-class people who are buying one ticket when the jackpot gets high.

Purchasing lottery tickets consumes a sizable chunk of discretionary spending for many Americans; it’s a way to invest $1 or $2 with the potential to win hundreds of millions of dollars. This investment, however, comes with the risk of euphoria obscuring good judgment and preventing the lottery player from making sound financial decisions.

In addition to spending billions on lottery tickets, players contribute millions more in foregone savings that could be tucked away in an emergency fund or invested in assets like real estate and stocks. Those who do win often struggle with the urge to spend the money quickly and show off their wealth, a dangerous combination that can lead to disaster.