A losing game: Playing the lotto is a waste of money

Colette Sexton, news correspondent at The Sunday Business Post, on why you're in for a windfall if you stop playing the lottery.

One in 10,737,573 - they are the odds for winning the jackpot in the Irish National Lottery. I do not fancy those odds, and you should not either. You have more of a chance of becoming a movie star (one in 1.5 million), becoming an astronaut (one in 12.1 million) or being killed by lightning (one in 2.3 million).

It could be you, but in all likelihood it won’t be, and you’ll just part with your hard-earned cash for nothing.

There is an old saying that the lottery is a tax on the stupid. That’s pretty harsh, but it does hold some truth.

It is true that if you don’t play the lottery, you can’t win. But it is more accurate to argue that if you don’t play, you can’t lose. A single line in the National Lottery main game costs €2. A minimum play is two lines, which is €4. It seems like nothing but if you play twice a week, four times a month that is €32, without even including Lotto Plus (an additional 50c per line). If you saved your lottery money every week, by the end of the year you’d have €416. It’d be like winning the lotto (albeit on a smaller basis!)

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The lottery is often seen as just a bit of fun, but there is a serious side to it. Playing the lottery, and particularly using scratch cards which allow for fast gratification, can lead to problem gambling. Over €10,000 every minute is gambled in Ireland. That equals €5 billion annually. Nearly 30 cent in every €1 spent on a National Lottery game is donated to good causes. But Ireland has the third highest per capita rating in the world for losses in gambling. Roughly less than one per cent of gamblers have a gambling addiction - however, approximately 30 to 35 per cent of the gambling industry’s revenues comes from those who have gambling issues.

Quitting the habit of playing the lotto can be difficult. It is hard to ignore the ads for the national lottery. Earlier this year Sinn Féin TD Jonathan O’Brien said in the Dail that he asked Canadian-controlled consortium Premier Lotteries Ireland, the national lottery licence holder, how much it spends on advertising. It would not disclose the figure but it is likely to be more now than ever before. Previously if any wins were left unclaimed they were diverted into the lottery’s fund for charities but now a portion of them is spent on advertising. Be aware of how those ads might be affecting your spending habits.

I am willing to make a couple of exceptions to my lotto rule. You should still contribute to your parish or club’s lotto. Even if you don’t win in those situations, you can still feel happy about contributing a small amount to your local area’s fundraising efforts. I’d also recommend to keep contributing to your workplace syndicate, if there is one. In the unlikely event that they win, you do not be the person on the news explaining that you weren’t included. That’s pretty embarrassing! Plus syndicates tend to buy more lines, therefore they have better odds of winning. But when it comes personally putting your hand in your pocket for the likes of the National Lottery and the Euromillions, maybe you should think twice. Would that money be better spent elsewhere?

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