In America alone, people spend over $80 billion on lottery tickets each year. They do so despite the fact that their chances of winning are slim to none. In the unlikely event that they win, they will have to pay huge taxes which can easily wipe out their entire winnings. Instead, they should use this money to build an emergency fund and pay off their credit card debt.

Lotteries are an ancient form of gambling, with roots in both the Chinese Han dynasty (which had a game called keno) and Middle Dutch loterie, based on the act of casting lots to determine who gets what. Often, as with the modern US Powerball, a player pays for a ticket and selects one or more numbers from a grid. The machines then randomly spit out combinations of numbers, and players win prizes if they match enough of them.

Throughout much of Europe, lotteries were a popular form of entertainment during dinner parties—Nero was said to be a big fan—and they were also used as a means of divining God’s will and to settle disputes. They were also common during the Roman Saturnalia celebrations and even among early European colonists, who benefited from them when they established the first European settlements in America.

Since 1964, when New Hampshire adopted the country’s first state lottery, virtually every state has followed suit. In those years, as states cast around for budgetary fixes that wouldn’t enrage anti-tax voters, lotteries rose in popularity. Proponents began arguing that lottery funds would help support a particular line item, usually education, but sometimes elder care, public parks, or aid for veterans. This approach made the case for legalization more persuasive, because it focused on a specific service that most voters considered worthy of government funding.