Lottery Advertising Misleads People About the Odds of Winning

Lottery Advertising Misleads People About the Odds of Winning

The lottery is an arrangement in which a number of prizes are allocated by a process that relies wholly on chance. The prizes are generally cash or goods. The lottery is usually conducted by a government agency or public corporation. It may start with a small number of relatively simple games and, in order to maintain revenues, progressively adds new ones.

The prize amounts are normally quite large, and ticket sales increase rapidly for rollover drawings. This raises the issue of whether or not the prizes are sufficiently attractive to attract potential bettors. The answer, it appears, is not clear-cut: it depends on the balance between a few very large prizes and many smaller ones.

It is important to understand that the odds of winning a lottery are very low, and it is not possible to predict the outcome of any particular drawing. Nevertheless, it is possible to learn about the probabilities of winning through combinatorial mathematics and statistical theory.

Lottery advertising is misleading in several ways, including presenting the probability of winning as very high; inflating the value of jackpot prizes (by describing them in terms of a fixed number of years over which they are paid, and by factoring in inflation and taxes that dramatically reduce their current value); and using emotional appeals to promote the games.

People like to gamble, and lotteries capitalize on this inextricable human impulse by dangling the promise of instant riches. But in doing so they obscure the regressive nature of lottery play, mislead people about the odds of winning, and encourage people to spend an ever-increasing share of their income on tickets.