5 Psychological Reasons We Play the Lottery

Why we Play Lotteries

There have got to be some deep-rooted reasons for our obsession with lotteries. Why else would we play a game that we have almost no prospect of winning?

Those of you tempted to use the ‘you’ve got to be in it to win it’ argument, may want to reconsider your position. Because let me tell you folks, there’s almost no way that you or I will EVER win the jackpot! So what are the motivators?

Well, there’s no doubt about the entertainment value of lotteries. And for the most part, they’re pretty inexpensive to play. However, there are more subtle forces at play. Here are the main psychological reasons why millions of us flog a dead horse every Wednesday and Saturday.

We Don’t Understand the Odds Properly

It seems that we just aren’t capable of understanding the preposterously high odds facing us when we buy a lottery ticket. For one reason or another, our brains haven’t evolved enough to fully appreciate big numbers.

Most of us are able to tell the difference between, say, a group of 10 people and a crowd of 100. But we’re totally incapable of distinguishing between really big numbers.

For instance, when lottery operator Camelot added another ten balls to their draw in 2015, the chances of winning the jackpot went from 1 in 13,983,816 to 1 in 45,057,474. These two sets of numbers are massively different in terms of probability but our brains are unable to comprehend this.

To us, they’re both just really high odds, nothing more. This is one of the reasons why the same number of people continued to play the UK lotto, even after Camelot’s changes.

Availability Bias

All lottery operators worth their salt attempt to exploit a simple cognitive tendency known as the availability bias. This describes how we estimate the likelihood of an event’s occurrence according to how easily we can come up with examples of such an event taking place.

So companies like Camelot fall over themselves to spoon feed us feel-good stories about their big-money winners through countless adverts.

Unsurprisingly, their smug faces remain in our minds for much longer than the resigned expression of poor old Joe Public, the jackpot loser. Catchphrases such as ‘it could be you’ then reinforce our recollections, although it should actually read ‘it could be you but there’s no chance in hell that it will be’.

Gambler’s Fallacy

As touched on in previous posts, this disastrous philosophy is one of the reasons why so many hard core gamblers find themselves destitute. It basically refers to the mistaken belief that the chances of something happening with a fixed probability become higher or lower as the process is repeated.

Typical examples include gamblers who think that they’re ‘on a winning streak’ or ‘due a bit of luck’. In terms of lottery-play, the gambler’s fallacy is exhibited by tactics such as choosing particular numbers because they haven’t appeared for a while. It is a ruinous strategy that has absolutely no mathematical basis.

The Near Miss Illusion

That feeling of ‘almost winning’ has been experienced by most of us at one time or another. It’s particularly evident in slot machines where the reels always seem to stop next to a winning symbol. This ‘quirk’ is no accident but actually a deliberate ploy by slots manufacturers to get people to put more money in.

The same is true when a lottery player correctly picks 3 numbers and laments at how close he was to winning the jackpot. As it stands the probability of winning the UK lotto is 1 in 45,057,474. So it’s tempting to assume that the chances of picking 3 numbers are half that amount. However, the substantially shorter odds of 1 in 97 mean that they weren’t close at all.

Easy to Justify

Spending money on the lottery can be easily justified given how cheap it is to play. After all, paying £2 a week for a ticket doesn’t sound like a big deal. However, when it’s added up over a period of five years or so, the amount isn’t quite as easy to dismiss.

This is why we constantly encourage our visitors to see the lottery for what it is: a bit of fun that should be enjoyed every now and then. Sadly, a large proportion of players use the lottery as part of an elaborate investment plan! Don’t be one of these people….please.