Lotteries, Life and Risk


Everything in life is a gamble. Insurance companies are a business based on odds. Life insurance companies gamble that you will live long enough to pay more in premium than they will owe if you die. If they guess right on enough people, they make a profit.

The stock market is like a giant worldwide casino. In fact, the stock market started out by selling shares in Lotto tickets in England in the 1600s. They moved on to selling shares in businesses. It's still gambling. When you buy a stock, you gamble that the business will succeed and make a profit. If they don't, you lose. If the business does make a profit you get a share of that profit called a dividend. Your stock may increase in value and you can sell it for more than you paid for it. You win.

Insurance companies and stock markets don't talk about odds, they talk about risk. It's really exactly the same thing. Stock brokers and actuaries are actually odds makers. They determine the odds on a business succeeding or failing, or the odds of having to pay out on an insurance policy. Like other odds makers, they tend to stack the odds in their favor. When you pay a premium you're betting against the insurance company. When you buy a stock, you're playing the odds.

State sponsored lotteries are tightly regulated legal gambling operations. Their job is to raise revenues, or make a profit. The total amount of the prizes for a given Lotto game is based on a percentage of ticket sales, or projected ticket sales. The percentage for the total cash amount of prizes is usually less than 50% of the cash proceeds of ticket sales. They keep more than half the money, that's how they make a profit.

Not all of the money raised by lotteries goes directly into state coffers. First, the actual expenses of the Lotto have to be deducted. The cost of machines, printing tickets, paying employees, all comes out of the state's share of the profits. In many cases, they do raise additional revenue by selling licenses to venders who sell the tickets. The Lotto is big business.

For people who think that gambling is a sin, every morning when you get behind the wheel of your car, you gamble that you'll make it to work without having an accident. Insurance companies publish the odds. You gamble that the food you buy isn't contaminated, that you won't be struck by lightning, that your plane won't crash. You can find odds for all these possibilities. Life is just one big gamble, and it's all about luck.

If you're feeling lucky, buy a Lotto ticket. You probably won't win, but you never know. The odds are one in four that you'll have an auto accident this year. That means three people won't get any return on their auto insurance premium which costs a lot more than a Lotto ticket. At least when you buy Lotto tickets you get something back in the form of funding for state programs you use. That may be a better return than you get on some of your stocks.

If you want to know the odds of winning a particular lottery, they are published on state Lotto websites. For the odds on instant lotteries in multiple states, you can visit Knowing the odds helps increase your chance of winning, because you can chose to buy tickets in games with the highest odds of winning, just as you can chose to buy stocks with the lowest risk of losing.

Everyday life is a gamble. You just don't have choice about playing the game and most people don't know what the odds are. Maybe people like lotteries because they can chose to play, the risks are calculated and win or lose, it’s only money.

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