Is the Lottery Worth the Money?


Buying lottery tickets is a great way to improve your chances of winning, but it can be expensive. A cheaper option is to join a lottery pool. It is much easier to win the jackpot if you have many tickets, but it is still worth the money if you just want to have fun.

Lotteries typically generate large initial revenues, which then decline as the public becomes bored with the games. Various innovations, such as instant games (often called scratch tickets), have been introduced to maintain or increase revenues. These innovations have triggered concerns about the impact on poorer individuals, problems for compulsive gamblers, and other issues.

Historically, states have promoted the adoption of lotteries by stressing their value as a source of “painless” revenue—that is, players voluntarily spend their money (instead of being taxed) to help fund public usages. This argument is particularly effective during times of economic stress, when state governments face the prospect of raising taxes or cutting public programs. Yet it has never been demonstrated that the lottery is actually better or worse than any other source of revenue for a government. In fact, as Clotfelter and Cook report, the popularity of the lottery is independent of a state’s actual fiscal health.