There’s a lot to be said for the idea that some people simply like gambling, and that there is an inextricable human impulse to do so. But lottery advertising isn’t just about feeding that instinct; it’s also dangling the promise of instant riches in an age of inequality and limited social mobility. Even if you’re financially comfortable, a modest lottery habit of $20 per month can add up to a small fortune over a working life—money that could be better spent on an investment account with a decent rate of return or to pay off debt quickly.
In the United States, we spend upward of $100 billion a year on lottery tickets. But while some of the money raised by lotteries goes toward public projects, a large share of it is devoted to marketing the games themselves. This is money that could be used to improve schools, build roads or canals, and so on. But lotteries have a regressive impact: They’re more expensive for poorer people, who tend to spend a larger fraction of their income on them than do those with higher incomes.
Lottery —a process in which numbers are drawn and winners are determined by chance—was once commonplace in Europe, particularly England and the American colonies, where it was often used as an alternative to taxation. Lotteries also provided a way to sell products or property for more money than a conventional sale would allow.