US states spend billions of dollars to run lottery games, including the cost of advertising them. But the main ways in which the lottery is advertised—as a pathway to a better life, or as a source of education funding—don’t reflect reality. That’s the case British comedian John Oliver argued on his HBO show Last Week Tonight.
In North Carolina, for instance, public schools now spend less per student than they did before an “education lottery”—promised by politicians to add a half billion dollars a year to education funding—was introduced in the state nearly a decade ago.
And if you’re playing the lottery purely for the chance at your own big break, well, keep in mind that the odds of winning the lottery on a single ticket is one in 176 million (some say 175 million), described in one news clip that Oliver showed as being roughly the same odds as getting struck by lightning while being eaten by a shark.
It’s unclear whether Oliver’s arguments will have any sway over Americans, who bought about $68 billion of lottery tickets last year. As Oliver pointed out, that’s more than they spent on movie tickets, music, pornography, the NFL, Major League Baseball, and video games—combined.