Why Do People Play the Lottery?

By: Brad Manock

       pod3     I have a couple of family members who gamble regularly. This includes casino trips and lottery tickets. Yet ‘I’ am considered to be the one who is bad with money in the family because I put some money into an investment portfolio. Why do people choose to play the lottery when pretty much anything else is a better use of money? That is what I will discuss in this article.


What is a Lottery Ticket?

            When you are buying a lottery ticket, what are you actually buying? In most cases a lottery ticket is a reason to have hope for the future. When people have zero hope for the future, this is when people usually become alcoholics or commit suicide. A lottery ticket tricks the mind into having hope and grinding away at the job that they currently work at. They know in their hearts that things will likely either stay the same or get worse if they take no action to change their life. If you buy a lottery ticket, you are buying a shred of hope in a circumstance where there usually is very little. A lottery ticket is a “hail-mary pass” for people who are not doing well financially and are looking for a quick way out.

            Occasionally when I am at work at my “real job” I will overhear a conversation about what each person would do with their hypothetical lottery winnings. If I had bought a lottery ticket, I would have been able to realistically contribute to that type of conversation. A lottery ticket seems to be a temporary license for the mind to day-dream about how awesome life would be if they did not have to worry about money ever again.


People Believe in Karma

            Lottery participants are almost exclusively “down on their luck.” People seem to have this belief that the good times and the bad times in the span of a human life will always balance out. If you could measure happiness with numbers, people seem to believe that the total happiness over a whole life between the good times and the bad times will always be “zero.” Most people would not admit that they believe in karma but the actions of lottery players seem to indicate that they believe in some form of universal justice.

            Usually the people who are down on their luck will take a look back at all of the experiences in their life. They will see that there has been a lot of bad times and not a lot of good times. With this being true they believe that good times must be ahead since they feel that good times and bad times will always balance out in the long-run. They then begin buying lottery tickets. They know the odds of winning, but they feel that their odds are actually much higher because they subconsciously believe that because they ‘deserve’ to win, their odds are better. Not many people will actually say the words “I believe I will win because I deserve to win” but it seems that most lottery players have some kind of story that makes them believe that things can only get better from there.

            This sense of karma or universal justice is reinforced by the media because, when someone has a “down on their luck” story and then wins the lottery, people feel good about it. If there had been a story about a wealthy person who won the lottery, people would not feel good about that because it contradicts the sense of karma. There is also the fact that lottery ticket buyers consist almost entirely of people who are bad with money so the odds of someone who is “down on their luck” is basically guaranteed. When people hear about these poor folks who win the lottery, it reinforces that sense of karma in their own minds. They then usually think, “my time to win the lottery must be coming soon, I better keep buying tickets.” This is also why lottery winners go broke so regularly, if they were any good with money they wouldn’t have bought any lottery tickets in the first place.


If I Keep Buying Tickets SOMEDAY I Will Win!

        Buying lottery tickets is usually a weekly activity for most participants. People may understand that the odds of winning any one lottery might be extremely small, but the odds they use to justify the purchase lottery tickets are the odds of EVER winning. Compounding odds is nearly impossible to calculate in your mind. People think that if there is a 1/one million odds of winning the lottery, a million lottery ticket purchases over the course of a lifetime will guarantee financial freedom. That is not how compounding odds works, it is never 100%. If you flip a coin 10 times, and all ten flips are “heads” what is the odds of the next coin flip being “tails?” It feels like a “tails” is almost guaranteed on the 11th flip, but really, it is still a 50/50 chance.

People feel that when they buy a lottery ticket and lose, that is not wasted money. They feel that the ticket will bring them one step closer to success. People subconsciously believe that there is a set number of losses a person will go through before winning the lottery, and that this number of losses depends on the “karma” that the person has accumulated. This is not true, every lottery drawing exists in a vacuum and do not influence each other even though people treat it as if it is an interconnected web of odds and karma.


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