Many people play the lottery each week in the United States and it contributes billions to the economy. However, the chances of winning are very low. The truth is that if you really want to win the lottery, you need to start thinking of it less as an investment and more as a form of personal entertainment.
Lotteries were common in Roman times—Nero was a huge fan—and can be found in the Bible, where they were used to choose everything from the next king of Israel to who got to keep Jesus’ garments after his crucifixion. They also sprang up in the American colonies, where colonists held private and public lotteries to raise money for various public ventures. The Continental Congress even voted to hold a lottery to fund the American Revolution, despite strong Protestant proscriptions against gambling.
The lottery became a hugely popular fundraising tool for public works projects, from canals to bridges to roads and colleges. The Boston Mercantile Journal recorded more than 200 lotteries sanctioned between 1744 and 1776, which helped finance the Massachusetts Bay Colony’s settlement of America and other colonial projects, including a battery of guns for defense of Philadelphia and rebuilding Faneuil Hall in Boston. In addition to promoting these public projects, lotteries served as a get-out-of-jail-free card for those who participated: the prize of a ticket was a promise that one’s name would not appear in any legal records for piracy, murder or treason, so long as the player did not buy multiple tickets.