The Costs of Buying a Lottery Ticket


In the United States, people spend billions each year on lottery tickets. It’s one of the country’s most popular forms of gambling, a pastime that can be both trippy and risky. But despite the high odds of winning, it’s not without its costs to society. Buying a lottery ticket can actually cost you more in lost savings than it does in the small chance that you’ll get rich off of the next drawing.

It’s no secret that the lottery is a form of gambling, but what some people don’t realize is how much it costs them in terms of lost retirement and education savings. Lottery players as a group contribute billions to government revenue each year, but they do so at the expense of their own future. That’s an ugly underbelly of the lottery, one that’s hidden behind the message that it’s a fun way to pass the time and maybe help the children.

While that might be a reasonable message to sell to some, it obscures how regressive and addictive the lottery really is. It’s important to remember that the majority of lottery players are low-income, less educated, and nonwhite, making it hard for them to save money in other ways. So even a small purchase of a lottery ticket can add up to thousands of dollars in foregone savings over a lifetime.

The fact is, the lottery is a gamble, and most people lose. But there’s an additional message that lottery commissions rely on to keep sales going, and that’s that you can feel good about playing the lottery because it raises money for the state. That’s a pretty twisted message, but it’s the one that most people believe.

Lottery winners don’t just have to worry about losing their money, but they also have to deal with taxes and fees that can take a big chunk out of any prize. Some of this money goes towards commissions for the lottery retailers, while others go towards overhead for the lottery system itself. But even after all that, the total amount you actually end up with is significantly smaller than the advertised jackpot.

If you want to increase your chances of winning, look for the numbers that appear more than once and try to find a set of singletons that are in a row. That will signal a potential winner. Also, try to avoid picking numbers like birthdays and ages that hundreds of other people might also choose. If you’re not careful, you could end up splitting a prize with someone else who had the same numbers as you. That’s why Harvard statistics professor Mark Glickman recommends avoiding significant dates or buying Quick Picks instead.