The Hidden Cost of Lottery Games

Lottery is a fixture in American life, with Americans spending upward of $100 billion on tickets every year. It’s the most popular form of gambling, but it’s also an addictive form of entertainment with a hidden cost that’s ripe for exploration: Lottery games can undermine financial stability.

It’s not a surprise to find that people with lower incomes tend to play more often. In fact, research shows that lottery players with an annual income under $10,000 spend more than any other group on lottery tickets. It’s a regressive form of gambling that targets poorer people and gives them false hope that winning the lottery will give them a leg up.

Cook’s research shows that while people do buy lottery tickets based on random chance, they also have some level of understanding that they’re gambling and the odds aren’t in their favor. They may have a quote-unquote system, like buying tickets from certain stores at specific times of day, or even using combinatorial math to analyze their favorite numbers.

Nevertheless, the overall message state lottery commissions send is that playing the lottery is fun and you should do it. It obscures the regressivity and makes it easy to forget that for many low-income people, the lottery is their last or only shot at a better life. And that’s a dangerous message to sell. Whether you’re playing for the Powerball jackpot or for a scratch-off ticket, know the odds of winning and how the probability of a win changes over time.