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Why do we play the lottery even when the odds of winning are slim?

Mega Million Jackpot
Posted at 7:49 AM, Jan 10, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-10 20:36:06-05

A lot of us are dreaming of striking it rich as Mega Millions’ jackpot tops $1.1 billion tonight.

That’s more than enough to do pretty much anything you want, which is one of the factors driving jackpots to grow larger.

“Even losing tickets provide value to lottery players because they provide the chance for a few minutes, for a few days, for a few hours to dream of a new life,” said author Jonathan Cohen.

Cohen wrote, "For a Dollar and a Dream: State Lotteries in Modern America."

He said about half of Americans buy lottery tickets. A lot of them only buy during big jackpot games.

Bigger pots entice more people to play who normally don’t. But about one in eight people play the lottery once a week.

“And that group is disproportionately poorer, disproportionately nonwhite and disproportionately less educated,” Cohen said. “And then over time, their losses pile up and that's when the jackpot gets really big and gets on the news.”

Cohen says there's also an entertainment factor behind playing the lottery. Another reason jackpots have grown so much larger in recent years is that games keep changing.

More states have joined in offering Mega Millions over the years and ticket prices doubled.

The matrix of numbers to choose from now makes the odds better for smaller prizes but tougher for the jackpot, so there are more rollovers.

The odds of winning Mega Millions' jackpot is one in 302,575,350.