How Lottery Purchases Are Explained

Lottery is the most popular form of gambling in America, with people spending upwards of $100 billion on tickets each year. In the past, state lottery commissions used to promote the message that purchasing a ticket was good for the state, a sort of “hidden tax.” But it’s unlikely that this is a valid argument given that lottery money makes up only a tiny percentage of total state revenue.

While a small probability of winning big does make the lottery attractive to some, the odds of winning are not what really drives ticket sales. Instead, it’s the excitement of seeing a large jackpot grow to apparently newsworthy levels that draw people in. Super-sized jackpots also give the game free publicity through news sites and TV shows, which increases ticket sales even further.

Despite the fact that lottery prizes are completely random, many players attempt to select numbers that have meaning to them. For example, some players use their birthdays or the birthdays of family members as lucky numbers. Others prefer numbers that end with the same digit (e.g., 7). The point is to select a wide range of numbers from the available pool so that you are not restricting your potential selections based on a specific pattern.

The purchase of lottery tickets cannot be accounted for by decision models based on expected value maximization because lottery tickets cost more than the expected benefit. However, more general models based on utility functions defined on things other than lottery outcomes may explain some lottery purchases.

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