The Ugly Underbelly of the Lottery


The lottery is a popular form of gambling in which people place bets on numbers or symbols. Prizes are often money or goods. Many states hold lotteries to raise revenue for public purposes. The prizes may be awarded to individual winners, or in some cases, to groups of individuals. The winning tickets are selected by a random selection process. In some countries, the selection process is computerized to ensure fairness. The prize money may be used to fund public services, or it may be invested in annuities for a number of years.

When the jackpot for a Powerball or Mega Millions drawing gets huge, you see billboards with the big numbers on them urging you to buy a ticket. They imply that the lottery is the only way you’ll ever have a shot at riches. The ugly underbelly here is that lotteries rely on the notion that even if you don’t win, you should still feel good about yourself because you did your civic duty and bought a ticket.

In reality, you’re more likely to get struck by lightning or robbed than win the lottery. But the ad campaign plays to an inextricable human impulse: the desire to gamble for a chance at great wealth.

Moreover, the lottery is a bad idea for most people because it takes billions out of state budgets that could be better spent on education, health care and retirement. And because it skews toward lower-income and less educated Americans, it undermines social mobility.