The Lottery Is Not For the Faint of Heart


Lottery is a game of chance that produces billions in revenue for state governments and captivates the imagination of millions of players. But it’s not a game for the faint of heart: the odds of winning are extremely low, and many players face serious problems after they win. This article examines some of the key issues that lottery critics raise, including its impact on poor people and compulsive gamblers; its role as a tool of social engineering; and its relationship to corruption and the economy.

Despite these drawbacks, lotteries remain popular in most states. Their popularity is largely driven by their ability to generate painless state tax revenues, often for a specific public purpose like education. The fact that these taxes are generated voluntarily by the players makes them much more palatable to voters than the sting of state taxes or budget cuts.

Lottery advertising is also notoriously deceptive, presenting misleading information about the odds of winning a jackpot and inflating the value of prizes (lotto jackpots are usually paid in equal annual installments over 20 years, which erode their current value dramatically with inflation). These distortions in lottery advertising have contributed to a number of high-profile problems, including the murders of Abraham Shakespeare and Jeffrey Dampier, who won $31 million in 2006, and Urooj Khan, who won a comparatively modest $1 million in 2009. It’s important to remember that the winners of lottery games don’t always play them responsibly.