Lottery is an ancient pastime, used in the Roman Empire (Nero liked to play) and throughout the Bible as a means of divining God’s will, or at least determining the fate of convicted criminals who were not allowed to appeal their cases. Today, we find the lottery in countless places from small 50/50 drawings at community events to multi-state games with jackpots in the millions. People buy tickets with the hope of winning a large sum of money, but they don’t always realize that there is a huge amount of risk involved in such wagers.
In the seventeenth century, lotteries became very popular in America. They accounted for a significant percentage of colonial America’s revenue, funding everything from public works to churches and colleges. They also financed many of the military ventures of the Continental Congress, including its expedition against Canada. Lotteries were particularly attractive to a society that was defined politically by its aversion to taxation.
But despite its widespread popularity, the lottery is a bad gamble. The odds of winning are not good, and those who do win often go bankrupt in a few years. And yet, Americans spend $80 billion a year on lottery tickets. That is money that could be going to savings for retirement, education, or even paying off credit card debt. What gives? The answer, like with so much in life, is complex. But there are some basic rules to keep in mind.