Hitting It Big

The psychology behind why we play the lottery

According to the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries, in 2019, lottery sales in the nation topped $91 billion. Chances are you contributed to that number — a recent report found that almost 8 in 10 adults had played the lottery in the past year. We can’t blame you for playing; it is exciting to think of winning a big payday and never working again. But why do we spend money on lotto tickets when the odds of winning are so low? Let’s take a look.

As you probably know, the chances of actually hitting that lottery jackpot are minuscule. As US News reports, the current odds of winning the PowerBall are one in 292.2 million. You have a better chance of being struck by lightning (one in 18,043) or attacked by a bear (one in 4,332,817) than winning the lotto. Ask yourself: When was the last time you worried about getting attacked by a bear? Exactly. The chances of winning the lottery are essentially zero. Yet we still play. Here’s a little of the psychology behind why:

  • Hope. The lottery offers hope. You might not be able to envision the slim odds of winning, but you can certainly consider the financial impact of winning. No more debt! A new house and car! The hope that the lottery offers is usually enough to cover up the actual real chances of winning.

  • The Media. When was the last time you heard about a lottery loser? Never, right? The media only covers when someone wins, and that drives that “hope” aspect through the roof. Think of it this way: There are so many daily lotto losers that if the media covered them, it wouldn’t have time to cover anything else.

There’s nothing wrong with playing the lotto every once in a while. But if you’re playing often, you might want to step back and think about how much money you’re wasting. There are better ways to spend that cash.

Chris O'Shea

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