Why People Like to Play the Lottery


A lottery is an arrangement in which prizes are allocated by chance. In a simple lottery the prize is money, in a complex lottery it may be anything from a house to a car. People like to play the lottery. In fact, it’s a bit odd that anyone doesn’t. So much so that they spend a considerable portion of their incomes on tickets.

Lottery has a long history, from Moses’s instructions for the distribution of land in biblical times to the lottery-like practices of Roman emperors and the early American colonies. Public lotteries have raised funds for everything from town fortifications to college scholarships, and private lotteries have been used to sell products and property. As a result, they’ve become a common way for states to raise revenue without angering their tax-averse citizens.

Although some critics worry that lottery profits go toward government programs that are not as necessary as others, the evidence suggests otherwise. The vast majority of state-funded programs are in education and health, while just over a third are spent on welfare and criminal justice. Lottery money also bolsters state and local police forces.

In addition to a general appeal to human nature, a major message that lottery promoters deliver is that playing the lottery is fun. Billboards praising the “fun” of scratching a ticket obscure the regressivity of the industry. But even without the billboards, lotteries send a number of other messages. They make people feel lucky, and they make people believe that their chances of winning are better than those of other people.