Man playing the lottery
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It’s easy to start imagining all the boats, cars, mansions and vacations you could afford if you hit the winning numbers and millions of dollars suddenly fell into your lap. But lotteries are almost always a bad investment.

More than a fifth of Americans (21 percent) buy at least one lottery ticket during the typical week, according to a 2018 Bankrate survey. The games are likely able to pull in even more people when the jackpots reach mind-boggling levels.

A jackpot exceeding $600 million — like the Powerball — is enough to put dollar signs in anybody’s eyes, but avoiding the temptation and putting your money elsewhere is statistically the better bet. You can definitely win if you don’t play.

Here are three reasons you shouldn’t buy lottery tickets:

  • Your money will almost always go further somewhere else.
  • The odds are against you — way, way against you.
  • Lotteries are more likely to pull money from low-income people.

1. Your money will almost always go further somewhere else

Bankrate’s survey found that 21 percent of adult Americans buy at least one lottery ticket in a typical week. Let’s say each ticket cost $2 — that would add up to roughly $5.5 billion shelled out annually. That kind of money, if collectively donated, could more than cover the annual budget of the American Red Cross — a humanitarian organization that services millions of people — for two years.

Forty-six percent of the people who said they bought scratch-offs, Powerball or other lottery tickets in a given week said they spend between $1 and $5, according to the Bankrate survey.

Instead of shelling out $2 every week for a lottery ticket, people who put that money in a piggy bank would be sure to hit a $104 reward by the end of the year. While that’s not $1 billion, it’s enough for a nice dinner or to pad a savings account. When only 29 percent of Americans have a fully funded emergency fund and 23 percent have no emergency savings, $104 can make a difference.

2. The odds are against you — way, way against you

Slowly adding to your piggy bank each week is not as exciting as hearing your numbers called or scratching your way to an instant prize. But it’s a lot less risky.

Getting your money back is statistically the best you could hope for with Powerball. And even then, there’s only a 3 percent probability — a 1-in-37 chance — you’ll do that. Hitting that big prize is even less likely at 1 in 292 million.

Investing in the stock market is not gambling, but it still involves risk. That said, if done smartly it involves far less risk than buying lottery tickets. And it’s easier than ever to participate. Robinhood, for example, doesn’t require a minimum balance, doesn’t charge per stock trade and lets you conduct business right from your phone or tablet.

3. Lotteries are more likely to pull money from low-income people

People in the lowest income bracket were the most likely to buy a lottery ticket during the typical week. The Bankrate survey found 28 percent of respondents who made less than $30,000 said they bought at least one ticket each week.

Only 18 percent of those with the highest incomes, earning more than $75,000, only bought tickets during the typical week, the data show.

Graph: Compared with their higher-earning counterparts, more low-income households play the lottery at least once a week.

Lower-income people are also more likely to buy multiple lottery tickets, which, as Bloomberg reports, means poorer Americans are largely paying to keep these games running.

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