Lottery Addiction


The lottery is a popular pastime that gives people the chance to fantasize about winning big money for just a few bucks. But for some, it’s a costly addiction. Buying multiple tickets can add up to thousands in foregone savings, and many lottery players spend more than they win. And a lot of that money is spent on food, housing and entertainment.

In the United States, 44 states and the District of Columbia have a lottery. But there are also six that don’t, including Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Mississippi, Utah and Nevada. Those states’ reasons vary. For example, the absence of the lottery in Alabama is based on religious concerns. In Mississippi, the state government already gets a share of gambling revenues and doesn’t want a competing entity cutting into those profits. Utah and Nevada are a bit more complicated: Their legislatures don’t think it makes sense to regulate lottery games when they’re already allowed to offer gambling on other topics.

Lottery games have a long history, dating back to the Chinese Han dynasty (205 and 187 BC). The earliest recorded signs of a lottery were keno slips. But modern lotteries are more sophisticated: bettors buy a ticket with a number or other symbols written on it, which is then deposited for shuffling and selection in the drawing. Lotteries are usually organized by a commission that collects and pools all the money staked as bets. A prize is awarded if the numbers drawn match those staked. A few states also have private lotteries, which award prizes for particular projects or activities.

While some people play the lottery as a way to dream about winning a fortune, others use it as a way to get out of a bad financial situation. For instance, a person who wins the lottery could use the money to pay off credit card debt or put a down payment on a home. But experts warn that lottery winners should avoid making major lifestyle changes right after they win.

Some people believe that purchasing multiple lottery tickets will increase their chances of winning. But Lew Lefton, a professor at Georgia Tech, tells CNBC Make It that this isn’t always the case. The odds of winning decrease as the number of tickets purchased increases, he says, and the payouts in a real lottery can vary from draw to draw. In addition, if you choose numbers that are more common—such as birthdays or sequences that hundreds of other people play—you have less chance of winning because there are more tickets in the pool. He advises choosing random or Quick Pick numbers instead.