State lotteries are a waste of money. I was watching 60 Minutes last night, and I was stunned to learn that the average American adult (18 years or older) spends about $318 per year on lotto tickets. This is according to the US Census Bureau as pulled from 2018 data. The government agency reports that there are over 229 million Americans over the age of 18 and the total lottery spend last year was 73 billion dollars, thus the $318 average.
As we report on, statistic after statistic shows that many (most?) Americans are well under-funded when it comes to retirement. About 40% of Americans do not even have $400 available for paying an emergency bill. People complain about their finances, often blame their hardships on others, and feel financial stress, yet the average adult is spending around $318 on lotto tickets!
The data is even worse when it comes to who is buying lotto tickets. It shows that those who can least afford to “gamble” are doing so. Bankrate reports that as of 2018 about 30% of Americans who earn less than $30,000 per year (which is close to or in poverty depending on household size) spent the most on the lottery. Those who earn under 30K are spending about $415 per year on tickets. So they are spending more than the national average, and that is 1.5% of their total household income.
Now look at the other side of the spectrum when it comes to who is purchasing lottery tickets. Americans that have an income of over $75,000 per year spent “only” $105 per year on the lotto.
It is very unfortunate that adults are spending over $300 per year on tickets, and the low income are spending even more than that. Also keep in mind that this dollar amount is after-tax income, so this means the person needs to earn probably $350 to $400 per year (or more) depending on their tax bracket.
If Americans just saved and invested this money, say starting at 18 years of age and invested $400 per year they would have a good chuck of change. If someone saved/invested $400 per year starting at age 18 (and did not waste it on the lottery) and they invested that amount for 40 years, that would have cost them only $16,000 total over the 40 years. However due to compound interest at 8% per year from say stocks, if they saved/invested that money each year they would have about $120,000 by the time they were 58.
That is more money than most people have for retirement. And that only counts investing the money spent on state lottery; it does not count other gambling, wasted expenditures, living beyond means and everything else.
Heck, as we write most people do not even have a few hundred bucks in emergency savings…just one year of not playing the lotto would address that issue.
Why do people gamble on lottery tickets?
Good question. We have read up on this today and over the years, and of course there is no straightforward answer. Experts have many thoughts on this topic, especially why low income families and those in poverty spend so much more. As the stats show that low income families have an increased likelihood of gambling addictions. Some of the reasons for wasting money on lottery tickets may include, but not be limited too, the following.
- Lack of financial education. As we report, schools do a terrible job of teaching this, and most people may not know (1) the odds against winning the lotto and (2) if they just save and invest the money (rather than play the lotto) they can earn money over time or maybe even retire.
- Short sightedness. Most Americans are short sighted and want “instant” gratification…they can’t even put off things or make a sacrifice that last weeks or months much less years. So they game for the hope of “quick riches”. This short slightness applies to so much in life…living healthy – diets, saving for retirement, education, hard work and sacrifices it takes, and more.
- Hopelessness or desperation. The lotto player thinks they have no hope to say exit poverty other than winning the lottery.
- Gambling addiction. As we wrote about, the poor are more likely to have a gambling addiction.
Most experts say the main reason for people to play the lottery is desperation, addiction, and lack of knowledge. But there is no general consensus. The fact is it is very sad to see people waste their money on lotto. And then they will of course complain they have no money when they pour hundreds of dollars per year into gambling. For those who want help, the gambling addiction hotline is 1-800-522-4700, and all calls are confidential.