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The Dangers of Playing the Lottery


The lottery is a form of gambling in which players pay for tickets, pick groups of numbers, and have machines randomly spit out winning combinations. The result is a prize, usually cash or goods, that goes to the winner or small group. Lotteries can be used to distribute prizes for things that have high demand, such as units in a subsidized housing development or kindergarten placements at a reputable public school.

While some people play for pure fun, others are drawn to the lottery by the chance of hitting the jackpot. Super-sized jackpots boost ticket sales and attract free publicity in news websites, newscasts, and radio shows. But they also increase the likelihood that the prize will carry over into the next drawing, making it harder to win.

It’s easy to see why state governments promote the lottery. Roughly 44 cents of every dollar spent on lottery tickets ends up in the hands of state governments, far more than is collected from corporate income taxes. In fact, the most common argument for a lottery is that it provides state government with “painless revenue.” But there’s a more troubling underbelly to the exercise: promoting a fantasy of instant riches in an age of inequality and limited social mobility. A big part of the problem is that lotteries are addictive. People who buy tickets spend more than they can afford and often find themselves worse off than before. And, in the worst cases, they can end up bankrupt or even homeless.