The Psychology of Lottery Players

Why do people play the lottery? On the one hand, the answer is obvious enough: We’re happy to spend $3 for approximately 15 seconds of irrational hope.

While most players know they won’t win—the odds are a joke—the latex coated ticket is a cheap permission to daydream, to think about the possibility of a better life. Not surprisingly, those without lots of money are more interested in such escapist pleasures. As I note in my recent Wired article on the statistician Mohan Srivastava, state lotteries have become a deeply regressive tax. On average, households that make less than $12,400 a year spend 5 percent of their income on lotteries. Of course, this makes no rational sense: People without lots of money should be the least willing to squander their hard-earned cash on games of chance.

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