What should gamblers know about Lotteries?

Compared to gambling in Las Vegas, buying a lottery ticket is a bad bet. In Las Vegas, all games — including slot machines, video games and table games — must pay back at least 75 percent of the money that was bet. However, that's the bare minimum. According to an analyst at the Nevada Gaming Control Board, the actual payoff is more than 90 percent. In other words, for every dollar that is bet in Las Vegas, over 90 cents is returned as winnings (in the long run, of course).

What about lotteries? To find out, I called California Lottery, a state agency that runs a variety of lotteries. According to the Public Information Officer I talked to, California Lottery pays back only 52.7 percent of all the money that is bet, much less than the games in Vegas.

What are the actual numbers? In 2001, California Lottery collected $2,849,000,000 in ticket sales. (That's $2.849 billion!) However, they paid out only $1,506,000,000 in prize money.

For the biggest lottery in California, "Super Lotto Plus", the odds of winning the jackpot prize — a huge amount of money — are 1 in 41,000,000. (Actually, this is generous. Many other lotteries have even higher odds for the big prize.)

No matter how you choose the numbers, no matter what system you use, winning a lottery prize depends on only one factor: luck. The plain truth is that lotteries are designed by experts so that, most of the time, most of the people will lose most of the money they bet.

In other words, lotteries are a tax on people who didn't think that math was important in high school.

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