The Regressive Gambling of the Lottery

In the United States, for example, the early church buildings were paid for with lotteries. And the first universities owe part of their founding to lotteries, too. But most people who play the lottery don’t understand how much they’re paying for. Sure, the chance to win a huge sum of money is exciting and potentially life-changing. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. The real value comes from the fact that for a few minutes or days or weeks, they get to dream about winning and imagine what their lives would look like with a little extra cash. This hope is especially valuable for those without much in the way of prospects in the current economy.

Lottery players might not know it, but they’re engaging in a form of gambling that’s regressive and preys on people’s delusions of meritocracy. This regressive nature of the lottery is hidden by two primary messages from lotteries and their marketers. The first is that you should feel good about buying tickets because they raise money for your state. The problem is that the percentage of lottery proceeds that go to state coffers is a tiny fraction of overall lottery sales.

Another message is that you should buy multiple tickets to increase your chances of winning. The problem with this is that it will also decrease the amount you’ll receive if you win. One possible solution is to join a syndicate with friends, and then pool your funds together so you can buy lots of tickets at once.

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