The Real Risks of Lottery Playing


In the US, state lotteries raise about $17 billion a year. Those funds pay for everything from education to health to infrastructure to crime fighting, and the money has been growing. Despite that, the lottery has long been the subject of intense criticism and controversy. Critics charge that it aggravates addictive gambling behavior, that it is a major regressive tax on lower-income groups and that it erodes the public’s trust in state government.

The word “lottery” is probably from Middle Dutch loterie, which itself may be a calque on Old French loterie or loteries, meaning “the action of drawing lots.” The first modern state-sponsored lotteries were introduced in Europe in the 15th century, and by the beginning of the 16th century they had spread to most states.

While most people play the lottery because they want to win, there’s also an inextricable element of hope. And while winning is irrational and mathematically impossible, that sliver of hope, like the longshot in a horse race, keeps people coming back for more tickets, more often than they would otherwise.

There’s a real problem with that. People who don’t have a lot of prospects in their lives are the ones most likely to buy tickets. And that’s where the real danger lies. This kind of hope can lull people into a false sense of security, which can lead to other dangerous behaviors, such as overspending and taking on debt. That’s why it’s so important to talk about the real risks of lottery playing.