There’s a lot to love about the lottery, including its low risk-to-reward ratio. The game also promotes the notion of meritocratic wealth, an attractive idea in a time of inequality and limited social mobility. But there is one aspect of the lottery that shouldn’t be ignored: It costs money. People who play it spend billions on tickets that could be better spent on other things, like retirement savings and college tuition.
Big jackpots drive lottery sales, and they get lots of free publicity on news sites and on TV and radio, which translates to more revenue for state lotteries and the prizes themselves. But the odds of winning a major prize are pretty long—about 1 in 300 million, according to math professor Tim Chartier. So why do we keep playing?
As a result, jackpots are growing larger. That’s in part due to chance, but it’s also because of the way lottery operators structure the prizes. They increase the number of possible combinations for a single ticket, making it harder to hit the grand prize. In addition, rising interest rates are boosting jackpot sizes.
If you win the lottery, you can choose how to take your prize, which will affect how much you receive and when you’ll get it. It’s important to consult a financial professional before choosing how you want to be paid, as the options have tax implications.
Many winners hire an attorney to set up a blind trust, which they can use to claim their prize and stay anonymous. It protects them from scammers, jealous friends and other issues that can come with being a jackpot winner.