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The lottery is a hugely popular form of gambling in America. Last year alone, people in the US spent upwards of $100 billion on tickets, making it the most popular form of gambling in our country. States promote lottery games as a way to generate revenue. But what’s really going on with those dollars, and whether that revenue is worth the costs of lotteries for people who win, deserve a closer look.
Unlike a traditional casino, where the prize is a fixed amount of money, in a lottery the prize is a percentage of total receipts. This approach has a number of benefits, including the ability to run a lottery with limited overhead. However, there are also disadvantages to this approach, especially for state governments.
For one thing, it’s a very regressive tax. The top quintile of income earners spend a relatively small share of their money on lottery tickets, while the bottom quintile spends a significant chunk of their disposable income on them. And that’s not even mentioning the fact that the initial odds of winning are incredibly low. These are not the kind of odds that inspire entrepreneurship, bolstering the American dream or the belief that anyone can get up through hard work and grit.