The Lottery’s Troubled Underbelly

The lottery is big business, contributing billions of dollars to the national economy each year. But a lot of people play it for the wrong reasons. They think the lottery is their ticket to a better life. They buy tickets in bulk, thousands at a time, so they can make sure the odds are always in their favor. They’ve heard a million stories from friends and neighbors who won. Or they’ve seen a TV show about the couple in their 60s who made nearly $27 million over nine years playing the lottery. This “meritocratic belief” in the likelihood of winning is a big reason why a large proportion of lottery players are poorer than you might expect.

While some state governments claim the lottery does a good job of raising money and supporting public needs, others say it’s just a clean way to get people to do voluntarily what they resent doing through mandatory taxes. Either way, the lottery has a troubling underbelly: dangling the hope of wealth for those who might otherwise be left behind in an era of increasing inequality and limited social mobility.

Brian Martucci is a personal finance writer at the Money Crashers website. He covers credit cards, banking, insurance, travel, and more. He also writes about frugality and how to get out of debt. When not investigating ways to save money, he enjoys hiking and eating local cuisine. Follow him on Twitter @bmartucci.