The Problem With Lottery Jackpots


A lottery is a gambling game in which people buy numbered tickets. Several numbers are drawn, and those who have the winning numbers on their tickets win a prize. Lotteries are often organized so that a certain percentage of the proceeds are donated to good causes.

People play the lottery all over the world, and it contributes to billions in revenue every year. While the lottery is a fun and harmless hobby for some, for others it’s their only hope of getting out of debt or escaping poverty. Many players are disproportionately lower-income, less educated, and nonwhite. It’s these groups that spend a huge proportion of their money on tickets.

But there’s one big problem with lotteries: They send a very clear message about how to win: namely, that it’s easy and you just have to play. This, coded into the messages of games like Powerball, obscures the regressivity of the activity and makes it seem much more meritocratic than it is.

It also means that the jackpots are much easier to grow to an apparently newsworthy amount than they would be if it were harder to win. This is because the bigger a jackpot grows, the more tickets will be sold. And the more tickets that are sold, the more likely it is that someone will win and the jackpot will carry over to the next drawing. This is a common way for jackpots to grow from one million to billions of dollars.