Lottery Benefits Are Illusory

The lottery is a system in which participants pay to have a chance at winning a prize, usually money. It can also be a procedure for assigning rights to a limited resource such as access to kindergarten admission at a top school, units in a housing complex, or a vaccine for a deadly virus. A common practice is to use a random process such as drawing slips or throwing dice to determine the winners.

Lotteries are a popular form of gambling, with people spending upwards of $100 billion a year in the US alone on tickets. States promote them by stressing how they benefit kids and other worthy causes. The problem is that these benefits are often illusory. Most people who win the lottery lose more than they gain. And even those who gain large amounts are prone to spending it quickly and ending up worse off than they were before winning the jackpot.

Some people argue that the entertainment value of purchasing a lottery ticket, or its other non-monetary benefits, outweighs the disutility of losing money and allows a purchase to be a rational decision. But this argument ignores the fact that lottery players as a group contribute billions in state receipts that could be better spent on health care, retirement, or education.

Lotteries are a popular way to raise revenue. But the state should be more upfront with people about what they’re really getting from the sale of those tickets. They should talk about how much a small percentage of lottery proceeds go toward the children and other causes, rather than how big the jackpots are supposed to be.