Why People Play the Lottery Are disproportionately Low-Income, Less-Educated, and Minority

A lottery is a type of gambling where people can win money by picking the correct numbers. It is run by governments and has many different forms. Some are instant-win scratch-off games while others require players to pick a number or numbers from a range. In the United States, most states and Washington, DC have lotteries. However, some states have banned them altogether.

While the jackpots advertised by state lotteries may be enticing, the real moneymaker is a player base that’s disproportionately low-income, less educated, minority, and/or addicted to gambling. According to Vox, one out of eight Americans buy a ticket every week, and studies have shown that ticket sales are disproportionately concentrated in neighborhoods with higher poverty levels.

These are the kinds of people who are irrationally drawn to the lottery, and they often have quotes-unquote systems about which numbers to choose, what stores to go to, and the time of day to buy tickets. They also know that the odds are long, and they’re willing to take their chances because they think they might as well give it a shot.

In the post-World War II period, it was possible for states to expand their social safety nets without having to impose especially onerous taxes on the middle class and working classes. So the states created lotteries to raise extra revenue, and those lotteries became so successful that they allowed them to whittle away at a system of government that had previously relied on relatively onerous taxes.