The Real Problem With Lottery

Lottery is an addictive form of gambling that involves paying a small sum for the chance to win big. Some state governments have argued that the money raised by lottery is better than taxes and should be used to make the system fair for all, but the truth is that most of what states spend on lotteries goes to those in the top quintile.

Lotteries rely on a couple of tricks to lure people in. For one thing, they tend to have very large jackpots and advertise them with billboards and TV ads. And they also dangle the promise of instant riches, which is especially attractive to people at the bottom of the income distribution.

Many of these people, in the 21st through 60th percentile, don’t have enough discretionary income to buy a lot of other things. So they spend $50, $100 a week on lotteries. This is a regressive practice. It takes a bigger share of their income than it should, and they don’t really get rich.

If they do win, they have to split the prize with anyone else who bought that particular set of numbers. So they need to have a good strategy, which Harvard statistics professor Mark Glickman says includes avoiding numbers that are close together or that end with the same digit. He also advises buying Quick Picks, which are a mix of numbers and are less likely to be picked by other people.

But the real issue is that winning the lottery, however improbable, gives people a little hope that they can improve their lives. And that carries over into the general belief that everyone should be wealthy someday, thanks to meritocracy and hard work.