Lottery tickets might be the ultimate no-labor gift, and they add extra oomph to a greeting card. They’re fun for the giftee, too, allowing him or her to fantasize, even momentarily, about early retirement in Grenada or paying off college bills. Never mind that the odds of winning a major jackpot are about one in a few hundred million. On the bright side, the odds of winning enough to buy a mocha latte with whipped cream are actually within reach, at one in 55. Almost $40 billion in prizes were awarded through state lottery funds in 2013, the last year for which figures are available. 

But think carefully about who will be on the receiving end. Although it may seem harmless to give a teenager an instant lottery ticket, for example, those who receive them as gifts may be more likely to gamble at an earlier age than those who don’t, according to the Journal of Adolescent Health. And just as it’s illegal for minors in most states to buy lottery tickets, it’s also illegal for them to cash in winners.


Check Consumer Reports' 2015 Holiday Guide for our picks of the best gifts, details on the latest deals, time-saving tips, and much more. And see our countdown calendar for top gift ideas for everyone on your list.
 

What If It's Literally a Winner of a Gift?

What if you do happen to give away a winning ticket? Legally speaking, a gift is a gift, so don’t expect a cut of the haul. Bennett Gershman, a professor at Pace Law School in New York, says that the winner is under no legal obligation to share.

So if you think you’d feel resentful if someone you gave a ticket to hit the jackpot, don’t do it in the first place. “Gifts are given without expecting anything in return,” says Patricia Napier-Fitzpatrick of the Etiquette School of New York. “Of course the gift could be given with conditions, but what kind of gift would that be?”

Even if the winner wants to throw a few bills your way to say thank you, Internal Revenue Service rules cap the amount of money that can be given tax-free ($14,000 per recipient in 2015).

And what if you receive a lottery ticket and you’re a lucky winner? Sign it right away. Otherwise, if you lose it, someone else can cash in on your holiday good fortune. 

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the December 2015 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.