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Infographic: The Real Cost of Playing the Lottery

Published June 24, 2014

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lottery statistics and budgeting advice

Thinking about playing the lottery? Think again.

The odds of winning the Mega Millions jackpot are one in 259 million. To break that down even further, you’re more likely to A) be attacked by a shark, B) become a movie star, and C) be struck by lightning before you ever come close to seeing a winning ticket. In fact, you’ll need to spend at least $62 in order to be practically guaranteed you’ll win anything.
Ok. So maybe winning the jackpot is out of the question. But what about winning a few dollars? The odds still aren’t good. In fact, the more you spend, the more you have to lose.

The odds of winning $4 are one in 55, which means at $2 a ticket you’ll need to spend an average of $110 just to win $4. Up the ante a bit and the odds increase. It’ll cost you $720 to win $7, and almost $40,000 to win $100!

Mike Jelinek at The Simple Dollar says the biggest mistake people make when it comes to buying lottery tickets is the fact that they’re spending money in the first place. “It’s never a smart idea,” Mike says. “However, I’m aware that it’s a form of entertainment for some. That’s the way anyone should look at it—as entertainment. How much would you spend on concert tickets? A movie? A dinner out? Take that limit and apply it to your gambling and consider it entertainment costs. Again, it’s not a good idea to get into gambling, but if you’re going to do it anyway, you might as well exercise some discipline.”

Rosangela Berbert, a professional counselor and Director of Clinical Services for The Samaritan Counseling Center, says the first step to overcoming any addiction is to acknowledge it. “The person needs to recognize and acknowledge that what they’re dealing with is not simply a bad habit but a real problem.”

The majority of people who play the lottery are reoccurring players, meaning a small percentage of people make up the bulk of ticket sales. These people buy tickets day in and day out, spending upwards of hundreds of dollars each year with dreams of winning it big.

Patrice Washington of Real Money Answers is another anti-lottery advocate. As a nationally recognized best-selling author and a leading authority on personal finance, Patrice often talks about the dangers of lottery tickets and other get-rich-quick schemes. According to her, “The biggest monetary mistake gamblers and lottery ticket buyers make is not factoring the habit into their monthly budget. While it would probably hurt to write it down and actually see how much money they waste, it would be the best dose of reality they could have.”

Brian Leppard of Dad Rambles also believes playing the lottery is never a good idea. Instead of buying into the hype, he says it’s more important to budget. “Make a budget and give every dollar a purpose. If a dollar doesn’t have a place, you will spend it willy-nilly. You can use cash in the beginning to get yourself motivated and on track.”

Other financial advocates the world over have voiced their contempt toward lotteries. On more than one occasion, financial help expert Dave Ramsey has referred to lotteries as a form of state-run oppression, saying “Research shows that people from lower income brackets, folks who can’t afford to be throwing their money away on some ridiculous game, spend four times as much on lottery tickets as anyone else.”

It’s estimated that lower-income households spend upwards of $645 a year just on lottery tickets, and with most Americans carrying a credit card debt of nearly $15,000, that’s a huge chunk of money people are literally throwing away.

Yet by saving that money instead of wasting it on lottery tickets, they could save over $3,000 in five years, and in 10 years they could save upwards of $10,000! With chances this slim, it’s next to impossible to make a profit, yet people still buy into the game. Over 57 percent of Americans bought at least one ticket last year. Were you among them?

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Maria Rivera

Maria Rivera

Maria has spent the last 13 years helping people overcome their financial hardships. She currently manages CreditGuard of America’s credit counselors and helps prepare individuals who are seeking their credit counseling certification. A resident of Boca Raton, Florida, Maria is always on the lookout for great new recipes and beauty tips. She's also a self-admitted pop culture junkie.
Maria Rivera

2 Comments

  1. Brad says:

    Very Interesting graphic! I keep buying scratch-off tickets but the most I’ve ever won was $2. Go figure.

  2. Nathan says:

    Indeed, but the lottery does a great benefit to society by using ignorance to fund education, reducing the former and increasing the latter.

    Without lotteries, ignorance will still spend it income… ignorantly.

    Lotteries = less ignorance, more education.

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