Why You Shouldn’t Buy a Lottery Ticket

A lottery is a game where players pay for a ticket, pick numbers that are randomly spit out by machines and win prizes if enough of their numbers match those picked by the machines. Some states run their own lotteries, while others participate in multi-state games like Powerball or Mega Millions. It seems like every state and even the District of Columbia runs a lottery, but there are six states you can’t buy a ticket in: Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Mississippi, Utah and Nevada, home to the gambling capital of Las Vegas. The reason behind these exemptions vary; Alabama and Utah forbid it due to religious concerns, while the state governments in Mississippi and Nevada already get a cut of lottery profits and don’t want to see a competing entity take away their share.

The big draw to the lottery is the possibility of winning a large amount of money. The odds are incredibly low, but many people find that the idea of a massive payout is irresistible. This is reflected in the eye-popping jackpots that seem to be much more common these days, which has helped drive lottery sales.

But it’s important to remember that winning a lottery prize is not just about getting lucky. It’s about making wise decisions and understanding the probability of success. If you’re interested in trying your luck at the lottery, it’s important to do a bit of research and use proven strategies. This way, you can maximize your chances of winning and make the best possible decision for your situation.

While there’s an inextricable human urge to gamble, lottery players are also essentially buying into the idea that they have a chance to improve their lives dramatically. In a country where inequality is high and social mobility is limited, many people see the lottery as their only shot at a substantial uplift.

The real problem with purchasing lottery tickets, however, is that people are spending billions in a form of government taxation that could be better spent on things they really need, like retirement savings or tuition for their children. And if they play frequently, even small purchases can add up to thousands of dollars in forgone savings over the long term.

For that reason, it’s important to think of lottery tickets as the type of purchase you would make with cash rather than credit or debit. And if you decide to play, be sure to read the fine print. As the examples of Abraham Shakespeare, who died after winning $31 million, and Jeffrey Dampier, who was killed shortly after taking a $20 million lottery jackpot demonstrate, this is not a risk-free game. Follow NerdWallet on Twitter and on Facebook. You can also choose to receive our newsletter. NerdWallet’s writers write about topics that matter to you. You can opt-out anytime. This article was originally published on Feb. 27, 2018, and has been updated. Copyright 2018 NerdWallet. All rights reserved. This content may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.