Why Do People Keep Playing the Lottery?


Lottery is a low-odds game of chance in which winners are selected by a random drawing. It is also a popular form of gambling, encouraging people to pay a small sum to be in with a chance of winning a large jackpot—often administered by state or federal governments. Lotteries are used in a variety of decision-making situations, including sports team drafts and the allocation of scarce medical treatment.

The word lottery is thought to have been derived from Middle Dutch lottere or Middle French loterie, perhaps via Old French lotinge, “action of drawing lots.” The first recorded state-sponsored lotteries were held in the Low Countries in the early 15th century, raising funds for town fortifications and helping the poor.

In the United States, state-sponsored lotteries are a major source of income for public services. State and local governments use the proceeds to fund a wide array of programs, from schools to libraries to subsidized housing. In the past, lottery revenue was considered a crucial way for states to provide public goods without increasing taxes on the middle class and working classes.

But today, lottery revenue is a much smaller percentage of state budgets than it was in the 1960s and 1970s. And if you win the lottery, you’re likely to end up with only about half of your prize after federal and state taxes are taken out. So why do people keep playing? The answer lies in a deep-seated human urge to gamble.