Most people have fantasized about what they would do if they won the lottery. Some fantasize about immediate spending sprees, expensive cars and luxury vacations. Others think about putting the money in savings and investment accounts to build their future wealth. But the reality is that a lottery win means nothing unless it is sunk into something productive.

The word lotto is thought to come from the Middle Dutch noun lot, meaning “fate,” or from the French noun loterie, which means “action of drawing lots.” In Europe, state-sponsored lotteries are common and provide a source of income for public works projects and other social services. The United States does not have national lotteries, but it does have forty state-sponsored lotteries that rake in more than $17.1 billion annually. Most of the profits are allocated to education, with New York allocating a record $30 billion since the lottery began in 1967.

Many lotteries sell tickets in a variety of places, including convenience stores, gas stations, restaurants and bars, churches and fraternal organizations, nonprofit groups, and newsstands. Some states have special lottery outlets in low-income neighborhoods. The NGISC final report noted that this strategy exacerbates the reliance of poor people on luck and instant gratification, rather than hard work and prudent savings.

Some critics object to lotteries for moral or religious reasons and are concerned that they push luck and instant gratification as substitutes for prudent spending and savings. Other objections are based on the idea that all forms of gambling are wrong, or that the profits of lotteries should be used to improve the public’s welfare, rather than as a source of tax revenue.