Money Matters: Hit the lottery story jackpot

October 19, 2018 11:00

Most people understand that the chances of winning the lottery are less than the chances of being struck by lightning – in other words, astronomically unlikely – but when lottery jackpots soar, lottery focused stories are often light and fun.

As finance reporting award winner Jill Schesinger pointed out in a recent panel at Excellence in Journalism 2018, personal finance decisions tend to have a strong emotional component. Eventually, despite the odds, someone does hit the jackpot, a hopeful thought motivating many to buy in despite the odds. It can be fun to daydream about what you’d do if you won, and that’s where many lottery stories focus.

But there are other angles to explore.

If you win
To stick with a hopeful tone, dig into the meat of what it means to win. Are you better off with the lump sum or annuity? What are the tax implications?

What are some more likely scenarios in which a person might come into money, such as receiving an inheritance? Talk about how the situations are similar and different.

Keep it real
According to one study, “each American spends an average of $206.69 on lottery tickets a year.” Research also shows that lower income people spend a higher percentage of their income on lottery tickets than higher income people, and that a relatively small percentage of lottery players make up a large share of ticket sales.

To take another angle on a lottery story, research how much people in your state or viewing are spending on lottery tickets, and show how else could that money grow? Instead of lottery tickets, what could someone buy for that amount? If invested in various ways, how could the money grow? Show a comparison over time.
Lottery story questions to ask from Lottery stories: Journalism or commercials?
  • How is your state lottery agency staffed and paid? What is its budget?
  • How does it market, and what is its marketing budget? Where does it spend its money? Does it target low-income households? (A FOIA request should produce this information.)
  • Where does the state’s share of the money go and what does it buy? Is it going where the governor and legislature promised it would when the lottery first came into being?

 Weekly Money Matters personal finance content for your newsroom is sponsored by the National Endowment for Financial Education


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