The Dark Underbelly of the Lottery

Written by adminss on May 28, 2023 in Gambling with no comments.


A lottery is a game of chance in which people purchase tickets and hope to win a prize, such as money or goods. The practice of distributing property or other valuables by lot has a long history, including several instances in the Bible. Roman emperors used lotteries to give away property and slaves, and in medieval Europe, the cities of Ghent, Utrecht, and Bruges organized public lotteries to raise funds for town fortifications or to help poor residents. Modern state lotteries are based on similar models. They create a state agency or public corporation to run the business; start with a modest number of relatively simple games; and, under constant pressure for additional revenues, progressively expand the offering of new games and other features.

Many state government officials argue that lotteries are necessary to fund a wide range of services, particularly social safety net programs for the needy, education, and infrastructure. They argue that the proceeds from lotteries are not only more effective than raising taxes, but also less burdensome to low- and middle-income residents. This argument is especially persuasive when state governments face difficult economic conditions. But studies indicate that the public’s support for lotteries is not tied to the state’s actual fiscal condition, and even in good times the popularity of the lottery declines slowly.

While most people know that the odds of winning the lottery are long, they continue to play, often spending a significant portion of their incomes. Some do so because they believe that the lottery offers them an opportunity to escape from a troubled past or start a fresh life. Others may feel that the lottery is their only hope of ever being able to afford a decent home or a college education for their children.

People who play the lottery frequently have quote-unquote “systems” that they claim increase their chances of winning, although such systems are largely irrational. Some believe that they can improve their chances of winning by buying tickets at certain stores, or at particular times of day. Still others claim to have found a formula that can predict the winning numbers. Mathematicians such as Stefan Mandel have even developed a computer program to help players select numbers that will maximize their chances of winning. But there is a dark underbelly to the lottery: it is a form of gambling that exploits desperate people. This is a problem that can be addressed, but only by a change in the way that lottery operations are conducted. Until that happens, lottery revenues will continue to be used for the wrong purposes. – James P. Lustig is a professor of law at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of “How to Win the Lottery,” a book that teaches the strategy behind choosing the winning numbers. He can be reached at

Comments are closed.