The Hard Work of Winning a Lottery


The practice of deciding fates and distributing property by lottery has roots that go back millennia. The Old Testament instructs Moses to conduct a census of Israel and divide its land by lot; Roman emperors used the lottery to give away slaves, as well as property and other valuables. Lotteries were introduced to the United States by British colonists. The initial reaction was largely negative, with ten states banning the games between 1844 and 1859.

Those days are long gone. Lotteries are a big money maker for states and have largely won public approval, particularly in times of economic stress. Lotteries provide states with a revenue source that is not dependent on tax increases or cuts in public programs. They also offer politicians a way to spend taxpayers’ money for free.

It’s easy to understand why so many people are drawn to the prospect of winning a large jackpot. Super-sized prizes generate a lot of attention and earn the game publicity, and they drive ticket sales. But there’s something even more fundamental about lotteries: They dangle the prospect of instant riches in an age of inequality and limited social mobility.

The first thing a new winner must do is keep his or her mouth shut and surround themselves with a crack team of lawyers and financial advisers. Then, once the excitement wears off, there’s the hard work of managing a large windfall. Depending on the size of the prize, that can involve everything from paying off debts to creating savings plans for children’s education and retirement.