How to Avoid the Lottery Trap


Lottery is a popular form of gambling in which participants try to win money by matching numbers. The odds of winning a lottery prize are usually extremely low, but people still spend billions on tickets each year. States promote lotteries by arguing that the proceeds will be used for a good public purpose, such as education. However, this argument is misleading: Lottery revenues are typically a small percentage of state budgets and do not correlate with state fiscal health. Furthermore, the money spent on lottery tickets could be better invested in savings for retirement or college tuition.

While the casting of lots has a long history in human society, it is only relatively recently that governments and licensed promoters have offered lotteries for material gain. The first recorded lotteries were keno slips from the Chinese Han dynasty between 205 and 187 BC. Later, lotteries were commonly used to finance government projects in Rome, such as municipal repairs. During the American Revolution, Benjamin Franklin sponsored a lottery to raise funds for cannons to defend Philadelphia against the British. Privately organized lotteries also grew in popularity, including one run by Thomas Jefferson to help pay his debts.

Whether people play the lottery for fun or as a means of funding education, there is a clear problem with this type of gambling: It encourages covetousness. As the Bible warns, “The love of money is a root of all evil, and some by it have become rich; but from others it springs up murder, envy, strife, and wickedness.” Lottery participants often believe that they can solve their problems with money. But they are deceived. They are not guaranteed to win, and even those who do win are not guaranteed a happy ending.

In addition to its pernicious moral implications, the lottery is a waste of money for those who do not win. In fact, Americans spend over $80 billion on lottery tickets each year – money that they could use for more productive purposes, such as building an emergency fund or paying off credit card debt. The average winner is only able to keep half of their winnings after taxes, and most lose it in a few years.

The best way to avoid the lottery trap is to stop playing altogether. Instead, save that money for a rainy day and use it to build up an emergency fund or pay down credit-card debt. But if you must play, choose numbers that are less likely to be picked by other people, such as birthdays or ages. That will increase your chances of winning, according to Harvard statistics professor Mark Glickman. Or better yet, pick Quick Picks so you won’t have to split the prize with anyone else who had your numbers. Besides, you can always buy another ticket if you don’t win. That way, you have a chance of avoiding the lottery trap entirely. If you do happen to win, you’ll have money left over for a vacation or a new car.