Categories: Gambling

What Makes People Play the Lottery?


Lottery is a popular and widespread form of gambling in which numbers are drawn to determine a prize. Typically, governments regulate lotteries to ensure that they are conducted fairly and with minimal abuse. Some state agencies or public corporations operate lotteries; others license private firms to run them in return for a portion of the revenues. A few countries have no national lottery, but the vast majority have state lotteries that draw on a large population and generate enormous profits.

In the United States, state lotteries have gained broad public approval since 1964. Advocates argue that they are an efficient source of “painless” revenue, as participants voluntarily spend money that would otherwise go to government taxes. This argument is particularly persuasive during times of economic stress, when lotteries are often promoted as a way to avoid tax increases or cuts in important public programs.

However, research shows that the decision to purchase tickets cannot be explained by decision models based on expected value maximization. Rather, purchasers may be responding to a combination of factors including risk-seeking and hedonic utility.

Other social and demographic factors also influence lottery play. For example, men play more frequently than women; blacks and Hispanics play at higher rates than whites; and the young and old play less than those in the middle age ranges. In addition, researchers have found that lottery participation decreases with formal education and that the poor play at lower rates than those from wealthier neighborhoods.

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