The Popularity of the Lottery

While it might seem strange that a country with Instagram and Kardashians would have such an old-school pastime, the lottery is still going strong. These days, 44 states run lotteries. The six that don’t are Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Mississippi, Utah, and Nevada—and the reason for each state’s absence varies. Some are religiously conservative and don’t want a competing entity to take a cut of the proceeds; others, like Alabama, are concerned about social mobility and have large budget surpluses that can’t be used to pay for things like teachers; and others, like Utah, are awash in gambling revenue from its many casinos and see no need to add another source.

As for the rest, Vox reports that a huge portion of lottery ticket sales come from low-income people and minorities. Study after study shows that people who play the lottery often have poor money management skills. They also tend to believe that if they’re smart enough to pick the right numbers, they’ll get rich quickly, and that’s not something that can be argued with.

The biggest thing about the lottery that might explain its popularity is that it doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t care whether you’re black, white, Mexican, Chinese, or Republican. It only cares if you pick the right numbers. And if you don’t, well, you should probably quit playing the lottery. It’s not fair to the rest of us. But if you do, you should know that your gut feeling isn’t necessarily a valid method of choosing your numbers. Math is the only way to be sure you’re doing it correctly.