The Psychology of Lottery Playing


The lottery is an activity where participants pay a small sum to play for a prize. Its roots go back a long way, with lotteries appearing in many cultures. They were common in the Roman Empire (Nero was a fan) and are attested to in the Bible, where they were used for everything from picking the next king of Israel to deciding who gets to keep Jesus’ clothes after his Crucifixion. In modern times, lottery games are used for public and private purposes, from granting units in a subsidized housing program to kindergarten placements.

The basic elements of a lottery are relatively simple: a mechanism for recording identities, the amounts staked by each player, and the numbers or other symbols on which money is bet. Often, the bettor writes his name on a ticket that is deposited with the lottery organization for shuffling and possible selection in the drawing. In some lotteries, the bettor may mark his own number on the ticket, and in others, numbers are assigned to entrants. The rules of the game determine the frequency and size of prizes, and a percentage of the total amount staked must be deducted for costs and profits to the lottery organizers.

Despite the low odds of winning, lottery players still buy tickets in large numbers. This is because they enjoy the entertainment value of participating and indulge in fantasies of wealth. As a group, lottery players contribute billions to government receipts that could otherwise be invested in education or retirement, and they may forgo savings opportunities to purchase lottery tickets.

However, the purchase of a lottery ticket cannot be fully explained by decision models based on expected value maximization. Lottery mathematics reveal that a monetary loss is much more distasteful than the expected gain, and so someone who maximizes expected utility should not buy a lottery ticket. More general models based on utilities defined by things other than the lottery outcome can capture this risk-seeking behavior.

Lottery participants also seem to be willing to invest a great deal of time in their participation. In one study, Lustig found that people who spend more than thirty hours a week on lottery tickets are twice as likely to win a jackpot of fifty thousand dollars or more. These findings support the view that some individuals are more inclined to take risks and have higher discount rates than others.

Another factor that may influence lottery participation is the perception that the results of a lottery are independent of other factors. For example, a person might believe that he has a greater chance of winning the lottery if his friends and family are also playing. Moreover, it is important to remember that the lottery is completely random and no particular set of numbers is luckier than any other. This is why you should always research for the right number before buying a ticket. Also, you should not be discouraged if you have not won the first time.