Why Do People Still Play the Lottery?


A state-sponsored game of chance for cash or prizes, in which numbers are drawn at random. Lottery games are popular in many states and raise billions of dollars each year. They are generally not connected to the state government’s actual financial health and, as Clotfelter and Cook note, have won broad public approval even during times of economic stress when voters oppose tax increases or cuts in public programs.

Lottery revenues provide governments with a source of “painless” money—players voluntarily spend their money on tickets that are then collected by the lottery for the benefit of the state. As a result, politicians rely on lottery revenues to offset their budget deficits and voters often support them as a way to pay for public services that they view as essential.

While people play the lottery for a variety of reasons, most agree that the chances of winning are very low. Yet they continue to play, spending over $80 Billion a year. The truth is, Americans should be saving this money for emergencies or paying off their credit cards. Instead, they are using it to try to improve their lives and, in the extremely rare event that they win, face enormous taxes and often go broke within a few years. In this article, we will explore the psychological and economic factors that drive lottery behavior and explain why the odds are so long against winning. Despite the fact that it is highly unlikely, players will continue to buy lottery tickets, believing that there is a sliver of hope that they are the lucky winner who will change their life for the better.