The lottery is a big business, one that helps states raise lots of dough for schools and other public-service projects. And it’s also a vehicle through which people lose big, often racking up debt they can’t repay and living in a state of permanent stress over the possibility that the next roll of the dice might make them rich.

It’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t know that the odds of winning are slim, yet many still play. They scribble down their numbers and wait for the random drawing, hoping against hope that they will be the one. They buy tickets in every store they visit, trying to find the lucky store or the lucky time of day that will increase their chances. They have quotes-unquote “systems” that don’t actually jibe with statistical reasoning, and they cling to the belief that they are doing their civic duty, even if they are losing their hard-earned money.

The casting of lots for decisions and the determination of fates has a long record in human history, including several instances in the Bible. Lotteries to award material prizes, however, are far more recent. The first recorded public lotteries to distribute prize money were held in the Low Countries in the 15th century, with the proceeds used to help poor towns.

There is something about the chance of winning a huge sum of money that draws people in, and the fact that it’s not too difficult to acquire a ticket makes it easy for them to justify spending their money on it. But the truth is, you’re far more likely to be struck by lightning or become a billionaire than you are to win a multi-million-dollar jackpot. And when you consider that most of the money spent on lottery tickets goes to pay for the promotions and profit of those running the lottery, it’s not a great financial investment.

State governments have largely endorsed the idea of lottery games by promoting them as ways to fund education and other social goods without raising taxes or cutting public programs. But I’ve never seen any studies that put the relative popularity of lotteries in context with the actual fiscal health of the state. And when you look at the percentage of total state revenue they bring in, they are a very small part of the pie.

So, it’s no wonder that those who spend the most on lottery tickets tend to be the most stressed. And it’s also no surprise that those who spend the least on them are the happiest, both in terms of their overall happiness and their financial security. That’s why it’s important to be aware of your gambling habits and don’t get carried away with the dream that you will somehow be able to turn that little slip of paper into a fortune. Khristopher J. Brooks is a reporter for CBS MoneyWatch and focuses on the U.S. housing market, the business of sports and bankruptcy.