The Costs of Buying a Lottery Ticket


Across the country, people spent more than $100 billion on lottery tickets in 2021. States promote lotteries as ways to raise revenue, and they do—but the costs are real and deserve scrutiny.

In the 16th century, European lotteries arose in cities trying to fortify their defenses and aid the poor. Francis I of France sanctioned them, and they spread quickly throughout the country. The term is believed to have come from Dutch, via Middle French, loterie, which probably is a calque on the root word for chance.

The earliest state-sponsored lotteries were simple raffles in which people bought tickets for a future drawing, often weeks or months away. These were followed by innovations that greatly expanded the scope of games. Since then, a pattern has emerged: lottery revenues expand dramatically when first introduced, level off and even decline, prompting the introduction of new games to maintain or increase revenues.

Choosing numbers that are significant to you—like your birthday or other anniversary—may seem like a good idea, but it’s likely to reduce the chances of winning. Instead, try to venture into uncharted numerical territory.

While super-sized jackpots are a big draw for players, the truth is that a large portion of the money goes to winners who are not very wealthy in the first place. In fact, there is no set of numbers that are luckier than any other. This is why wikiHow advises lottery players to research their options before buying tickets. Checking the lottery website for a break-down of different games and the prizes they offer is a good place to start. Also, pay attention to the date when they update their records so that you are getting the most current information possible.