What is the Lottery Doing?

Making decisions and determining fates by the casting of lots has a long history (indeed, it’s mentioned in the Old Testament). But the lottery as a way to earn money is a much more recent invention. The first public lotteries in the West are usually dated to the 15th century, when towns held lotteries to raise funds for town fortifications and the poor.

The biggest reason that people play the lottery is that they like to gamble. There’s an inextricable human urge to try our luck with a chance at winning big. But there are also other, less obvious things that the lottery is doing, and which most people are unaware of.

One is creating new gambling habits in young people. A lot of kids grow up watching their parents play the lottery, and they learn to expect to win at some point in their life. Another is dangling the promise of instant riches to those with little hope of getting ahead in an era of growing inequality and declining social mobility.

It’s important to remember that when you’re buying your tickets, you don’t know what any of the other players are doing. The odds are very different from one ticket to the next, so it’s easy to get fooled by a false sense of security when you buy a ticket. A good idea is to set a budget and stick with it — whether that’s spending daily, weekly or monthly on lottery tickets.