A lot of people play the lottery, and some of them have won. But what does that win mean? Mostly, it means they are rich now. And with that wealth comes the responsibility to pay off debt, set aside savings for retirement, diversify investments and maintain a strong emergency fund. There’s also the matter of keeping the news to themselves as long as possible and avoiding flashy purchases that could draw attention from the IRS. Discretion is key, say experts who have worked with past winners. They are better off putting their winnings in a trust or a family foundation, and avoiding overstating their wealth even to close friends, especially in the early days of the windfall.
What’s more, the purchase of lottery tickets cannot be accounted for by decision models that incorporate expected value maximization. Instead, it seems to be a form of risk-seeking, perhaps allowing players to experience a thrill and indulge in fantasies of wealth. And like all commercial products, lottery sales are responsive to economic fluctuation; they rise when incomes fall and unemployment climbs. They are also highly concentrated in neighborhoods that are disproportionately poor, Black or Latino.
Once states began relying on lottery revenue to meet the demands of their budgets, it became politically easier to endorse them. Legalization advocates shifted the argument, saying a lottery would help cover one line item—invariably education or veterans’ affairs, but sometimes public parks or elderly care—and that voting for it was a vote in favor of that particular government service. This approach made it harder to argue that a lottery was simply a tax on stupidity.