How Much Should You Bet on the Lottery?

In the fiscal year 2003, Americans wagered $44 billion on lotteries. This was an increase of 6.6% from the previous year, and continues a steady trend of increasing participation in the lottery since 1998. While lottery winners are mostly middle-aged men from all walks of life, there is no universally accepted standard for how much to bet. The statistics above, however, highlight some common characteristics of players, including their age, income, and race.

The history of lotteries dates back thousands of years, to the time of Moses. In the Old Testament, Moses was commanded by God to count the people of Israel and divide the land by lot. Similarly, Roman emperors used lotteries to distribute property and slaves. Lotteries were so popular in ancient Rome that they were used as a form of entertainment at dinner parties. The Greek term apophoreta, which literally means “that which is carried home”, indicates that these early lotteries were used to distribute money.

Ultimately, the value of playing the lottery can be compared to the anticipated gains. Lotteries are risky, and the potential loss is more than offset by the possibility of losing more money than one’s prize. In other words, the disutility of the monetary loss is outweighed by the combined expected utility of nonmonetary gains. Therefore, playing the lottery is not a bad idea if the player is seeking thrills and the fantasy of becoming wealthy.