If you’re one of the lucky lottery winners, the key to keeping your good fortune is to keep it secret from everybody — even your close friends. That way, you can avoid the temptation to go shopping or otherwise splurge before you get settled in, and you’ll also be able to maintain anonymity for as long as possible, if necessary. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy yourself a little, just make sure to keep it modest. The more people who know, the more likely it is that your luck will turn sour.
Lottery has been around for centuries, but it became truly popular in the nineteen sixties when it collided with a crisis in state funding. As states grappled with population growth and inflation, balancing budgets became increasingly difficult without raising taxes or cutting services, both of which were unpopular with voters. The lottery seemed like the perfect solution: a way for governments to make revenue appear seemingly out of thin air.
The argument went something like this: Most people are going to gamble anyway, so the government might as well collect the proceeds and pocket them as revenue. This argument deftly sidestepped a host of ethical and moral objections, including the notion that gambling could undermine a family’s ability to provide its children with a decent standard of living. It also provided a political cover for those who might otherwise oppose legalizing gambling.
In the end, though, this line of reasoning was a dead end. The truth is that most lottery players simply love the game; they buy tickets, they check their numbers, they play for years. They’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars, often over a lifetime, in an effort to win, and they’re happy doing it.
What’s more, lottery revenues have exploded in recent years because of super-sized jackpots that generate massive amounts of free publicity and draw in ticket buyers. Those super-sized jackpots, in turn, can drive even more ticket sales and exacerbate the cycle of growing jackpots and shrinking odds of winning.
When I talk to people who play the lottery, they’re surprisingly clear-eyed about the odds. They tell me about their quote-unquote systems, about the lucky numbers and stores and times of day when they buy tickets. But they know that the odds are very, very long.
Defenders of the lottery argue that playing is a form of civic duty, and I’ve never seen any research that shows that people who play feel more inclined to contribute to their communities or care about their neighbors when they buy a ticket. What they do say is that playing the lottery helps poor, black, and brown neighborhoods by providing jobs and other forms of economic development. That may be true, but it’s not a very strong argument for expanding the game. It’s just a lot of marketing smoke and mirrors. In reality, the only thing that really drives lottery sales is the chance to hit it big.