The lottery is a massive industry that brings in billions annually. Its participants are wildly diverse, but most believe that the prize is their answer to a better life. But the math doesn’t add up: winning a large sum of money isn’t easy and it’s not for everyone.
It’s counterintuitive: as jackpots got bigger, the odds of winning got worse. Lottery commissioners figured this out, and began lifting prize caps and adding more numbers. The New York Lotto, for example, started with one-in-three-million odds, and now it’s one in forty-five million. But even as the odds grew worse, the sexy commercials and billboards beckoned with promises of instant wealth.
The word lottery derives from the Dutch noun lot, meaning “fate.” By the seventeenth century, they were common in the Low Countries and England, where they were used to raise funds for everything from town fortifications to charity. The first English state lottery was chartered by Elizabeth I, who designated the proceeds for “repairs of the Havens and strength of the Realme.” Tickets cost ten shillings, and winners received immunity from arrest.
Today, the vast majority of lotteries are run by states or charitable institutions, and their profits are rolled into government budgets as tax revenue. But there are private lotteries, too. To find out if they’re legal, look at the fine print and check your state’s laws. If you’re considering selling annuity payments, make sure to contact your lottery company first to ensure a smooth transaction.