The lottery is a game of chance that has a reputation for being addictive. But the truth is, it’s a game of strategy and marketing designed to keep you hooked. And it isn’t that different from the tactics used by tobacco companies or video-game makers.
Most people play the lottery because they just plain like to gamble, and it is true that there’s an inextricable human urge to do so. But the bigger story is that the lottery offers a dream of instant wealth in a world where inequality and limited social mobility make it more difficult than ever to get rich.
A lot of money is spent on tickets, and the most frequent players are people in the 21st through 60th percentiles of the income distribution — people who have a few dollars left over for discretionary spending, but not enough to build an emergency fund or invest their way out of poverty. The rich play the lottery too, but they buy fewer tickets and their purchases represent a smaller percentage of their income.
Ultimately, the lottery is just another way that wealthy and powerful people reinforce the myth that America is a meritocratic society where anyone can rise as high as they want to through hard work and perseverance. And while the chances of winning are slim, for many people, a win can feel like a ray of sunshine after a long stretch of darkness. The problem is that it can also come with a price.