The official lottery is a commercialized gambling game in which players continuously pay into a system that, in most cases, gives them nothing back, writes Bernal. He says it’s particularly prey on poor people and that its marketing focuses heavily on neighborhoods populated by black and Latino residents. That’s why he thinks it’s especially important for people to have the facts about what the lottery actually does.

The first recorded lotteries that offered tickets for sale with prizes in the form of money were held in the Low Countries in the fifteenth century to raise money to build town fortifications, as well as to fund charity and public works projects. They were so popular that, in some places, they came to be seen as a legitimate alternative to paying taxes.

Those who opposed them raised a variety of moral concerns, from the devout Protestants who saw state-sponsored gambling as unconscionable (although they reliably played the games themselves) to the liberals and democrats who worried that lottery profits would be used for things like welfare benefits, which they considered corrupt. But the biggest obstacles were monetary ones, as politicians faced the challenge of maintaining existing services without raising sales or income taxes. Lotteries were portrayed as budgetary miracles, capable of pulling in hundreds of millions of dollars essentially out of thin air.

When a jackpot is hit, winners can choose to receive their prize in 29 annual payments (known as the annuity option), or in a single lump sum. The decision often comes down to a matter of personal preference and financial acumen. In both instances, she advises that lottery winners should work with a team of professionals—an attorney, an accountant and a financial planner, for instance—to help them decide the best way to invest their winnings.