The Problem With Playing the Lottery


A lottery is a game of chance in which participants pay to have a number or symbols drawn for a prize. It has been used for centuries to raise money for public and private ventures, such as roads, libraries, colleges, canals, bridges, and churches. In colonial America, lotteries also helped finance the founding of Yale and Princeton universities and the American Revolution.

Many people play the lottery for the hope of winning a huge sum of money, but it is important to remember that there is an absolute zero chance of becoming rich through this activity. Those who do win, however, must pay massive taxes on their winnings, and often find themselves broke within a few years. Americans spend more than $80 billion per year on lottery tickets, and this is not a good use of the country’s budget. This money could be better spent on building an emergency fund or paying off credit card debt.

The big problem with lotteries, as Jackson shows in her story, is not that they’re unpopular or unfair but that they’re a form of gambling that lures people into dreaming of instant riches in an era of rising inequality and declining social mobility. The fact that state governments continue to push them, even though they raise a small fraction of overall revenue, is a sign that we’re stuck in an ancient mental trap. If we want to escape it, we need to start redefining what it means to gamble.