Did you know that you have higher chances of getting hit by a meteorite than winning a lottery? And no, it’s not a joke. According to NASA, the odds of a piece of space hitting your head are about 1 to 250,000. Your odds of winning a Powerball? 1 to 292 million.
That puts things into perspective, doesn’t it? And yet, despite these crushing numbers, more than 50 % of US citizens regularly buy lottery tickets. And it doesn’t matter whether you live in Arkansas, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, California, or any other state, we all love playing lotteries.
But why is that? What are the reasons which make us believe that we have any chance of turning three dollars into millions? More on that below.
The first reason why there are so many lottery/gambling players is an unrealistic optimism of believing that even though the chance of winning is incredibly low, it still exists. All because of one thing. Our brains are incapable of comprehending such odds.
If your chances were 1 to 3, then sure, it’s easy to calculate that you have a 33 % chance of winning. But 1 to 300 million? Even if the odds were 1 to 500 thousand, it would be extremely hard for your brain to estimate your likelihood of winning.
Most people focus on that one chance, telling themselves that they can still win even though it’s unlikely. Who wouldn’t have bowed under such logical arguments?
Illusion of Control
People tend to believe that they have control over their chances of winning the lottery. After all, it is you who has to pick the numbers. Did you choose 6, and the winning number was 9? That was close; why don’t you try your luck next time.
This psychological experience has the gracious name of a “near miss.” It gives you an illusion that you’re getting closer every time you play the lottery, making you try over and over again.
One study has shown that near-miss enhances our motivation to gamble and activate the same reward system as actual success. And the closer you get, the more motivated you feel, believing the fate is in your hands.
But winning is not the main reason why so many people play the lottery. It’s the sense of thrill and excitement every time you watch the draw with a lottery ticket in your hand. You feel the adrenaline pumping through your veins while numbers are popping up on the screen.
It doesn’t matter whether you win or not. It’s the risk that counts. That feeling connects very strongly to the first point of the article – unrealistic optimism. Deep down, you know you’re not going to win the lottery, but why not have some fun and play since there’s still a chance?
The Gambler’s Fallacy
Although many people believe that playing the lottery is not gambling (it is), the vast majority of them fall into the so-called gambler’s fallacy. It’s a mistaken belief, where you believe that the outcome that hasn’t occurred for a while is “due” to appear soon.
A quick example. Imagine that number 13 hasn’t appeared for the last 30 Powerball draws. Because of the gambler’s fallacy, you believe that there’s a high chance it will occur in the next draw. The draws without 13, the higher the odds it will appear. Do you get the picture?
It gives you an illusion of control over the utterly random drawing process, forcing you to buy more lottery tickets.
“It’s My Only Chance”
As mentioned before, people realize that their odds are terribly low, still winning the main prize is too tempting. After all, who doesn’t want to be a millionaire? And unfortunately, not everyone can be the next Elon Musk.
People tend to believe that they won’t make a fortune conventionally, so they keep playing the lottery. They treat it as their only chance to earn millions, and the fact that a ticket costs $3 is even more encouraging.
One research even found that people are more likely to take risks, including the lottery, when the times are tough, such as periods of recession or crisis. And with the potential win so huge, it seems like an opportunity of a lifetime.
The Bottom Line
The list of events that have a higher chance of winning the Powerball or Mega Millions is incredibly long and includes such incidents as:
• Getting struck by the lightning
• Being eaten by a shark
• Being killed by the hoard of bees
• Dying on your birthday
Still, more than half of the people who live in the United States regularly play the lottery, even though they don’t even believe they have a chance. So why do they play? Because they like to feel entertained. The sense of excitement that comes with participating in the lottery is too tempting and easy to justify.
After all, who cares that you have to spend three dollars when you can win millions?