The Lottery – Why Do People Think They Are Doing a Civic Deed by Playing the Lottery?


The lottery is a popular form of gambling, in which players pay a small sum to enter a draw for large prizes. Some governments outlaw it, while others endorse and regulate it. A portion of the proceeds goes to support government programs. The lottery is a complex machine with many moving parts, so it is important to understand how it works in order to make informed choices about whether or not to play.

What I find most surprising about this phenomenon is that people who play the lottery really seem to believe that they are doing a civic duty by buying a ticket and that they will ultimately reap a great reward from it. They are naive about the odds, sure, and they have these quote-unquote systems, which are completely unfounded by statistical reasoning, about lucky numbers and stores and times of day to buy tickets, but they also seem to know that the odds are long for them to win, and they keep playing anyway because, they think, it’s their only chance.

This belief is probably driven by the fact that, despite the fact that they are a form of gambling, the lottery does raise money for state governments. And, it is also true that, at least for some, the entertainment value they receive from playing exceeds the disutility of the monetary loss they are taking on. That being said, there are a lot of people who play the lottery regularly and spend a significant portion of their incomes on tickets.