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Why do people play lottery?

Definition / June 28, 2018

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You are more likely to win an Olympic gold medal than to win the lottery. Yes, that is true. The odds of a person winning an Olympic gold medal are 1 in 662,000, while the odds of winning a big lottery prize, like the National Lottery in the UK, are 1 in 13,983,816, yet you see more people buying lottery tickets than you see them training for the Olympics. So what draws people to keep playing despite the overwhelming statistical evidence that they will lose?

1. The almost wins

The allure of the “almost win” is what gives lottery enthusiasts a compelling reason to buy more tickets. Those near misses give the illusion that you were so close to winning, that maybe next time you will actually land it. A study in 2009, has found that almost winning a gamble activates the same reward system in the brain as winning does. It also gives people more confidence in themselves and their luck.

2. Addiction

The high of buying tickets and sitting optimistically waiting for lottery results can get addictive way too fast. The fantasy of the life after the big win can lead people to go down the rabbit hole and lose control of themselves when it comes to buying those lotto tickets. According to statistics, three to five gamblers out of every hundred struggles with a gambling problem.

3. The availability bias

I am sure that you can recall more than a couple of heartwarming stories about lottery winners because winners always make the news. However, no one remembers the millions of lottery losers, sitting in their homes and cursing their luck because those stories are not worth mentioning. Lottery organizers heavily rely on advertising the winners to lure more people into buying their tickets because “if they can win it, so can you” right? Wrong! This bias affects our judgment and grab on reality and makes us believe that winning is actually possible.

4. Too much for too little

The idea of spending a dollar, a pound or a yin and winning millions in exchange drives people to keep playing because it can be life changing. Most people buy lottery tickets because they cost very little, while the reward could be astronomically high. It is an intoxicating idea that can control our better judgment.

5. The sunk-cost fallacy

When a person has been playing the lottery for so long without winning big, he or she must have spent too much money on tickets without consciously realizing it. This is where the sunk-cost fallacy occurs. You start buying more tickets because you have already invested so much. This unrecovered money will affect your future decisions when it comes to buying tickets and lead you to buy more.

6. It is fun

The thrill of the game is also another reason that makes people participate in the lottery. The tiny little hope we have when we scratch that ticket and dream of the jackpot is fun. It is not only about winning, it is also about dreaming, about the “what if”. So, if buying a ticket or two every now and then for the fun of it, while knowing that the statistics are against you is a source of entertainment for you, you are not alone.