One lottery ticket here and there won't hurt anyone, but too many people are buying too many tickets. It's a massive and destructive industry, and with many states now facing serious budget crises, we're likely to soon see more lotteries instead of fewer of them. Too bad.
When lottery jackpots get gargantuan, lottery organizers get excited. Convenience store owners get excited. And people across the nation get excited, too, dreaming of early retirement. There's a much more reliable way to retire early, though.
Consider Abner, who spends $50 per month on the lottery. That's $600 per year. If that money were invested and grew at the stock market's 11% average annual growth rate, it would become more than $100,000 after 30 years (and some $350,000 after 40 years!). That's just the average return of the stock market. Fools who carefully select individual companies to invest in should be able to beat that.
But Abner is buying lottery tickets. Lotteries typically pay back 50 cents for every dollar bet. On average, if Abner plays $50 every month, he'll lose half of his investment the first month, leaving him with $25. The following month he'll try again, and again lose half. After 40 years, having poured $24,000 into the lottery, the typical player, on average, will have just $12,000 left.
Lottery gamblers are ignoring mathematical realities. They're tens of times more likely to die from flesh-eating bacteria than to win a Powerball jackpot. And, the vast majority of players will lose most of what they wager over the years. They keep playing because the "who knows -- you could be next" message is heavily promoted by our states.
State governments have a higher calling. They'd serve the public better by scaling back or eliminating their lottery advertising. Oddly enough, casinos, which typically take 10 times less from a bet than lotteries do, live with tight advertising regulations.
Foolish investors shouldn't buy lottery tickets, except as very infrequent amusements. Playing Powerball regularly means hurting your chances of methodically becoming wealthy. Long-term investors, not short-term speculators, will retire early.
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