Is Winning the Lottery Really Worth It?

The lottery is the most popular form of gambling in the United States, and it raises billions of dollars for state governments each year. But is it really worth it?

When it comes to money, people are often irrational. They’ll spend $50, $100 a week on a game that has a very low chance of winning. But it’s not because they think the odds are bad; that’s just part of the appeal. The other part is the entertainment value. The desire to win the lottery has been around for centuries.

In fact, the word “lottery” dates back to the Old Testament (Numbers 26:55-55) and Roman emperors such as Nero used lotteries to award military positions. Today, there are 37 states with state lotteries. Some have super-sized jackpots that attract attention, but most are based on predetermined prizes and profits for the promoter.

But the main message I’ve heard from state lotteries is that even if you don’t win, you should feel good about buying a ticket because the proceeds are helping the state. That’s a misguided message because the percentage of money state lotteries actually bring in is very small compared to what they spend.

The most common way to lose the lottery is by picking numbers that others may also choose, such as birthdays and other significant dates. This practice can cut your chances of avoiding having to split the prize with other winners, says Rong Chen, professor and chair of statistics at Rutgers University-New Brunswick.