In the United States, people spend billions of dollars on lottery tickets every year. Many of them believe that winning the lottery will bring them prosperity, but it’s a long shot.
We’ve talked to people who play the lottery for years — $50 or $100 a week. Often, they surprise us by explaining that they have found a way to increase their chances of winning — a process called “scaling” in which you invest more money to buy more tickets and increase your chance of winning. Some even go so far as to form a syndicate — groups of people who pool their money and share the winnings.
But these strategies don’t increase the odds of winning by very much. And they can also reduce the amount you receive if you do win. This is because you pay tax on the winnings, and sometimes even half of them could need to be paid in taxes. In the end, you’re still out that money.
The idea that winning the lottery is a way to get rich quickly has taken hold in recent decades. But this obsession with unimaginable wealth has coincided with a decline in financial security for most Americans: Income gaps have widened, job security is eroding, health-care costs are rising, and the promise that education and hard work will lead to economic mobility has faded. The lottery seems like an easy and fun way to avoid this reality.