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The Truth About the Lottery


The lottery is a game of chance that gives people a tiny, sliver of hope of winning a huge prize. Its rules determine the odds of winning and how much money is paid out. A large portion of the pool goes to costs of organizing and promoting the lottery, and a percentage usually goes to profits or state revenue. The rest of the money is available for the prize winners.

Lotteries have been around for a long time. They are mentioned in Roman literature—Nero, for example, loved them—and they were used in early America to fund public projects and build churches. They have also been a source of entertainment, a way to divination, and even a form of marriage matchmaking.

But as states have grown more reliant on them, the perception has emerged that they’re a hidden tax that steals money from the poor to pay for the rich. This is one of the reasons why the late-twentieth-century tax revolt saw many Americans voting to abolish their state’s lotteries.

In the United States, lottery revenues have fallen as state governments have shifted spending from social services to education. This has been compounded by the rise of online gambling, which is growing rapidly in popularity.

Nevertheless, a large number of people play the lottery—as many as 50 percent of American adults, according to Cohen. The majority of those who play are disproportionately lower-income, less educated, nonwhite, and male. For these people, the entertainment value of a monetary win may outweigh the disutility of losing, and so they continue to purchase tickets.