What Drives People to Play the Lottery?

If you play the lottery, you know your losses will likely outnumber your wins. But it’s still fun to dream about it, and there’s a lot of value in the few minutes or hours or days that you spend fantasizing about winning a fortune. And for many people, especially those who don’t have much economic hope in their lives, that’s what the lottery really is all about.

Those are the people that state lotteries rely on to keep ticket sales up by convincing them that even if they don’t win, they’re doing their civic duty for the public good. It’s the same message that sports betting is using to get people to buy into its narrative of being good for society, despite the fact that it raises less money for states than does lottery revenue.

But there’s another side to the story, and it has to do with that sneaking suspicion that, no matter how improbable, somebody has to win. In this piece, we talk to lottery players—people who’ve been at it for years and spend $50, $100 a week—to find out what drives them to make that irrational gamble. The answers might surprise you.

Posted in: Gambling