How Much Do People Spend on the Lottery?

Lottery is a form of gambling in which people pay for tickets and hope to win prizes. Some states have state-run lotteries; others have private ones. People can win cash, goods, or services in the lottery. A large prize can make a big difference in someone’s life, but the odds of winning are very low. Many people like to play for the chance of changing their lives, but some people spend a lot of money on tickets and never win.

The word lottery comes from Middle Dutch lotinge “action of drawing lots,” which itself may have come from Latin lotium, meaning “fate.” George Washington used a lottery to raise funds for the building of the Mountain Road, and Benjamin Franklin supported a national lottery that would fund cannons during the Revolutionary War. In the early 1960s, New Hampshire introduced the first modern state lottery. It was sold as a way for states to improve education and other social safety net programs without increasing taxes.

Today, lottery commissions are trying to shift that message, saying that playing the lottery is fun and even if you lose, you can feel good about yourself because you’re helping the state. But that’s an irrational message, and it obscures how much people play—and how much they spend on tickets.

I’ve interviewed people who play the lottery a few times a week, spending $50 or $100 per ticket. They’re mostly high-school educated, middle-aged men. They’re not just irrational; they’re very committed, and they’re spending a lot of their incomes on these tickets.

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