The lottery is a fixture in American life. People spend upward of $100 billion a year on tickets, and states promote them as a way to raise revenue. Those who win, however, are often left wondering what to do with their newfound wealth. They may be tempted to buy that big-screen TV, pay off debts, or take a vacation. But if winning the lottery is to mean something meaningful, it must be used wisely.
Several experts have written books on the subject, including Michael Lustig, a professor of behavioral science and finance at Stanford University. He says the key is to find the right numbers. He advises players to use a system that takes time, patience, and research. The number of tickets purchased also matters, he writes. If there are a lot of other people buying tickets, your odds of winning are much lower. On the other hand, if only a few people are playing, your chances of winning will increase.
When Lottery was first popular, it was promoted by state politicians in the Northeast, who saw it as a way to expand services without irritating the rest of the population with onerous taxes. They figured that voters would rationally choose a small chance of winning a big prize over a big chance of losing nothing at all. But the premise was flawed. The fact is that the more a lottery jackpot grows, the smaller your chances of winning are.
Cohen notes that the lottery’s rise in popularity corresponded to a sharp decline in financial security for working Americans. The income gap widened, job security eroded, health-care costs rose, and the long-standing national promise that hard work would render everyone better off than their parents became harder to fulfill.
In this environment, winning the lottery has become an attractive way to make a lot of money and avoid the tax burdens that come with it. But if you want to use the money wisely, it is important to be prepared for a few surprises. If you plan to buy a large house, start a business, or give away some of your winnings, it’s a good idea to get a lawyer involved early on to draw up a will and other legal documents.
It’s also a good idea to hire an accountant, who can help you set up a trust or other entity that will protect your assets from a lawsuit and minimize the tax bill. It’s also a good idea to keep your winnings quiet and stay out of the limelight as much as possible, especially in the early days. The more people who know, the more trouble you’re likely to get into.