man holding powerball lottery ticket
Joe Raedle/Staff/Getty Images News/Getty Images North America

Here's Why You Should Never Play the Lottery

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man holding powerball lottery ticket
Joe Raedle/Staff/Getty Images News/Getty Images North America

Money for Nothing

The lure of the lottery is powerful. Just pony up a few bucks for a ticket while you're buying that coffee at the corner store and a few days later, all your dreams could come true — a temptation that is especially strong now that the multi-state Powerball jackpot is up to a whopping $441 million. This line of thinking compels Americans to spend more on lottery tickets than books, movies, video games, sporting events, and music combined. In total, we drop more than $71 billion a year on the dream that comes with that little slip of paper. For virtually everyone who plays, however, that dream will never come true, and for the tiny minority that beat the odds, the dream often turns out to be a nightmare. 

Related: Things to Stop Wasting Money on Right Now

Investing Is a Much Better Bet

Investing Is a Much Better Bet

If you won $17,657 playing the lottery, you'd be pretty happy, right? Well, if you took the $220 that the average American adult spends on lottery tickets each year and invested it instead, you'd have that after 30 years of $220 contributions, presuming a 6% return. By relying on compound interest instead of luck, you can generate a hefty windfall instead of praying for one. 

Related: 11 Smart Purchases That Pay for Themselves

kids wearing masks in school

The Vast Majority of Profits Don't Benefit Education

The feel-good story with the lottery is that even if (when) you lose, the kids win every time you buy a ticket. The proceeds, after all, benefit public education. That's mostly a fantasy. First of all, the lion's share of the profits go to funding payouts, and another huge chunk is dumped into advertising. Generally, less than 1 dollar in 3 actually goes to education. Even though that's still billions of dollars for schools, the numbers are deceiving. Legislatures anticipate the lottery profits and simply substitute that money for traditional funding instead of supplementing it as the system was designed to do. 

Related: What Teachers Are Paid Around the World

It Preys on the Poor
The Poor Lose Even When They Win

The Poor Lose Even When They Win

A hugely disproportionate number of lottery winners get state assistance. That means they're buying lottery tickets with taxpayer-funded money that was supposed to help with necessities. The state does not forbid this activity — in fact, it encourages it by advertising so heavily in places where residents tend to get public assistance. But in a final act of retribution against the poor, many states, such as New York, confiscate prizes from anyone who gets assistance in the rare cases that they do win.

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It's Just Another Tax
The Advertising Is Dishonest and Intentionally Misleading
A Tendency Toward Ruined Lives and Broken Relationships

Ruined Lives and Broken Relationships

Time is just one of many publications to report on the so-called lottery curse. The sudden arrival of a massive cash windfall causes enormous upheaval in the life of the average person. Lottery players are likely thinking about the cars, boats, travel, and freedom that a lucky ticket would bring. They're probably not thinking about the fact that should they actually win, virtually everyone they've ever known will see them as a wallet packaged in extraneous flesh for the rest of their lives. Jealousy, greed, and resentment are common side effects of winning lottery tickets, and they can lead to isolation, paranoia, divorce, and depression, and can even make the winner a target for violence while increasing the chances of suicide.

Winning Paints a Bullseye on Your Back
Paul Bradbury/istockphoto

Winning Paints a Bullseye on Your Back

If you happen to win a big prize, and you live in a state that requires public disclosure (or even if you don't but you're otherwise revealed as a winner), plan for a whole bunch of unwanted attention. You'll suddenly be one of the world's biggest targets for scam artists, fraudsters, blackmailers, and people who file frivolous lawsuits for a living. 

Related: The Biggest Phone Scams and How to Avoid Them

Even If You Win, You'll Still Probably Lose

Even If You Win, You'll Still Probably Lose

All big lottery winners have one thing in common: the likelihood that they'll declare bankruptcy within three to five years skyrockets the second they cash in that ticket. Big lottery winners are incredibly likely to blow it all, go broke, and end up worse off than they were before they won. One of the biggest reasons is the sense of entitlement that friends and family tend to assume. Those hangers-on also tend to see the prize as bottomless, bleeding the winner of money and causing emotional distress along the way. 

Related: When Is Bankruptcy an Option?

You're Absolutely, Positively Not Going to Win

You're Absolutely, Positively Not Going to Win

The odds of winning the Powerball grand prize are about 292.2 million to 1. CNBC provides some context for that impossible-to-grasp number. It's almost certain that you won't die from a shark attack, and the odds of that happening are a much more reasonable 1 in 3.7 million. The odds of dying in an asteroid strike are 1 in 1.9 million, which compared with the lottery seems like a virtual guarantee. If any situation had 1 in 292.2 million odds of success, the situation would be considered a lost cause.