The Costs of Playing the Lottery

Last year Americans spent upwards of $100 billion on lottery tickets, a popular form of gambling that is often touted as a painless way for states to raise money. But when placed in the context of state budgets, that revenue is a drop in the bucket and can obscure the very real costs that come with playing the lottery.

Lottery is a form of gambling where people bet on the outcome of a drawing to win a prize. Prizes are generally cash or goods, but may also be services or other non-cash benefits. Many lotteries are run by state governments, and the prizes they offer are often very large. In some cases, a portion of the proceeds from the lotteries are used to help charitable or public causes.

In modern times, the word lottery comes from the Dutch noun lot, meaning fate or fortune; the original English use dates back to 1569. In the 17th century, lotteries were very common in colonial America and played a major role in funding private and public ventures, including roads, libraries, colleges, churches and canals.

When I’ve talked to lottery players, the ones who really play a lot, they are clear-eyed about the odds. They know that there’s a much greater chance of being struck by lightning than winning the Powerball. But they still buy tickets, spending $50 or $100 a week on their chances of becoming the next millionaires. They do this because the entertainment value they get out of it exceeds the disutility of the monetary loss they’re incurring.