The Morality of Lottery


Lottery is a form of gambling wherein participants pay a small sum of money to be entered into a drawing for a prize. Each participant selects a group of numbers or has machines randomly spit out ones for them, and the winning ticket is the one that matches all or most of the winning combinations. Originally, the term was used for games in which participants paid a fixed amount to be entered into a draw with a high chance of winning a substantial amount of money. Later, the word came to be applied more generally to any random drawing.

Many people play the lottery, and they contribute billions in lottery revenue to state coffers each year. Some play for the fun of it; others, especially those who play regularly, believe that they are buying a ticket to a better life. These players are clear-eyed about the odds, and they have all sorts of quote-unquote systems (irrational as they may be) about the best numbers and stores and times to buy tickets.

But the economics of lottery are not on the side of the players. Even a small purchase of a ticket can add up to thousands in foregone savings over time, and the majority of players are low-income, less educated, nonwhite, and male. Moreover, the money they spend on lottery tickets goes toward government services that these groups might otherwise have helped fund in other ways. For these reasons, some people are skeptical of the morality of lottery.