The Myth About Winning the Lottery


The lottery forum syair sgp hari ini, it is said, raises money for state services. But it also helps to feed a national myth about chance and merit: “If you’re lucky enough to win the lottery, you can do anything.” And if you have won the lottery, the story goes, you will become a model citizen: You will donate to charity, buy an education for your children, support veterans, clean up your community, and so forth. It’s an appealing fantasy, especially since we have seen people sleep paupers and wake up millionaires in a few short years. But is it true?

The idea that you can turn your life around by winning a lottery has roots in ancient times. The casting of lots was common in the Roman Empire (Nero, for one, was a fan) and is attested to in the Bible, as well as in many cultures outside the West. It’s a form of divination, or so the argument goes: If you can’t get the gods to favor your cause, turn to the lottery for help.

Early in the American colonies public lotteries were popular, raising money for colleges, hospitals, and other civic ventures. But they were also tangled up with the slave trade, as evidenced by George Washington’s management of a Virginia lottery whose prizes included human beings and Denmark Vesey’s purchase of his freedom through a South Carolina lottery. Public lotteries also were a major source of revenue for the Continental Congress during the Revolution.

As states sought ways to avoid a fiscal crisis without enraging an anti-tax electorate, they turned to the lottery. Lottery advocates began to focus on a single line item in the budget that was popular, nonpartisan, and easy to sell—most often education, but sometimes elder care or parks or aid for veterans. This approach had the advantage of making it easier to argue that a vote against a lottery was a vote against education, and vice versa.

Lottery commissions have started to move away from that message, focusing instead on two messages primarily. The first is that playing the lottery is fun—the experience of scratching a ticket is certainly fun. Coded in that is an idea that the lottery is wacky and weird, which obscures its regressivity and helps conceal how much people actually play.

The other major message that lottery commissions are relying on is that even if you lose, you should feel good because you’re supporting the state with your ticket purchases. This suggests that lottery play is a purely personal, structural decision—but in reality it is responsive to economic fluctuations: Lottery sales increase as incomes fall and unemployment rises; it’s no coincidence that they are heavily promoted in poor neighborhoods. And as with most commercial products, lottery sales are disproportionately concentrated among the lowest-income, less educated, black, or Latino populations. Neither of these messages, however, is likely to convince those who know better. They may just keep buying tickets anyway. And they’re probably right.