Want to get rich? Send me $14 each week and I'll make you a millionaire.

There's as much chance of that happening as you winning the lottery - if you play. Odds of winning first prize in Lotto are about one in 3.8 million. Odds of any New Zealander becoming prime minister are about one in 2.5 million. But you knew that.

What's she on about? It's just a bit of fun.

If you enjoy losing money and donating extra dosh to the government, Lotto is a load of laughs.


Lotto NZ's latest annual report shows Kiwis spent nearly $1 billion on lottery games in 2015/16. Sales were up 9 per cent over the previous year.

Twenty-one cents of each dollar spent on the lottery went to the Lottery Grants Board, which provides community funding nationwide. Would you donate to any other charity that gifted just one-fifth of its income?

Sure, $204 million to community groups isn't chump change. Neither is the salary (and benefits) in excess of $440,000 paid to Lotto NZ's top executive last year (by comparison, pay for New Zealand's prime minister is set at $448,000).

Fifty-five cents of each dollar spent on the lottery is paid to prize winners, as detailed in its annual report. By contrast, slot machines must have a minimum return to players of 78 per cent, according to the Gambling Act 2003.

Next time you're at the supermarket, check who's buying scratchies. Is it the well-heeled woman who just rocked up in her new Jaguar? Or the bloke making car payments on a dunger?

The lottery functions as a regressive tax on our poorest citizens. The government peddles false hope to people trapped in a bad economic reality. A 2011 paper in the Journal of Gambling Studies concludes the "poor are still the leading patron of the lottery ..."

Researchers noted a significant increase in young people gambling, and the best predictor of their lottery gambling is their parents' participation.

A 2010 paper in another American publication, the Journal of Community Psychology, found lottery outlets are often clustered in neighbourhoods with large numbers of minorities, who are at greatest risk for developing gambling addictions.

The Salvation Army in New Zealand refuses money from gambling trusts and cites government reports stating Maori and Pacific people have high rates of problem gambling.

Part of the blame rests with people like me - in media. Monday, the Bay of Plenty Times featured a front page headline reading, "LOTTO MILLIONAIRE! Lucky ticket sold in Bay."

Someone bought a $1m winning ticket in Brookfield. We interviewed a store clerk who might have sold that prize. We (media) perpetuate the fantasy we could all change our lives with a $14 Triple Dip. I wish we'd stop promoting the lottery. I won't hold my breath.

But I don't have a gambling problem. I don't play every week. Also, I can stop at any time.

This missive isn't aimed at people who succumb to Lotto's lure a handful of times per year. It's for those who can't or won't save money, yet have a pathological fear of what could happen if they don't play the numbers.

That extra $14 each week amounts to nearly the cost of GST on $100 worth of groceries. It's $728 each year. That sum would grow to about $30,580 (pre-tax) if invested at a rate of 6 per cent for 20 years.

How much do you have to show for your lottery habit? You already have $728 in a rainy day fund? Spin the wheel of fortune - occasionally, knowing most Kiwis don't have that ready cash.

A New Zealand Treasury report late last year showed we're spending more than we earn. I know someone who put lottery purchases on a high-interest credit card, and later had a dental emergency that cost more than $600. He couldn't pay the dentist, so he took on more debt.

Tauranga Budget Advisory Service manager Diane Bruin says the lottery has no place in a struggling family's budget.

"If people spend even $6 on basic Lotto that could be a few loaves of bread."

For families able to pay bills and repay debt, she suggests budgeting a set amount for the lottery and not deviating.

"The worst time is when the Powerball goes up in value and [there's] the hype to win a lot of money. Then the family hasn't enough money to buy food and may ask for a food parcel or other assistance to get through."

She discourages playing Lotto online, saying it's too easy to load up a credit card. That's exactly what we're doing. Lotto NZ reports online sales increased nearly 30 per cent year-on-year. There's an app for that.

Gambling counsellors say Lotto Fever is likely to worsen as an ageing population with extra time spends more and more money on an increasing universe of lottery products. Imagine what would happen if we decided to pay ourselves, or a real charity, instead?

Dawn Picken also writes for the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend and tutors at Toi Ohomai. She's a former TV journalist and marketing director who lives in Papamoa with her husband, two school-aged children and a dog named Ally.