I feel like recently I’ve been bombarded with the news of the $540M jackpot that has risen to record levels. It’s on billboards, the news, my morning radio talk show, and all over the internet. Initially, maybe a week or so ago, I was thinking, who cares, there’s always an ongoing jackpot…but then it started growing larger and larger. My morning talk show hosts were asking callers what they would do if they won the jackpot.
And suddenly, I found myself fantasizing about what I would do if I won. Would I tell anyone at first or have the sense to consult with a financial expert first? Would I quit my job? Would I give large chunks of it to family members? Would I go on a shopping spree? Would I upgrade everything (including car, condo, and most importantly shoes)?
I also, of course, began to wonder what it is that is making everyone so excited about this jackpot, which individuals presumably have extremely teeny-tiny odds of winning? The psychiatrist in me began to think about gambling as an addiction or impulse control disorder, which is easier. It is easy to write off gambling addicts who can’t leave the casino after hours and hours of sitting at the slot machines. But what about the average person, who is getting caught up in lotto fever?
I think there are probably a couple of things that drive people to buy lottery tickets despite the ridiculous odds. This article defines the current odds at 1 in 175,000,000! There’s probably better odds of getting into a plane crash, being attacked by a terrorist, and getting eaten by a shark. So despite the odds, what is turning rational people into thinking they actually have a chance?
Well, the first is probably the fantasy–just like me the other day, buying a ticket allows one to escape reality for a short period. And who doesn’t want to escape reality once in a while? My days are not extremely thrilling as a general rule. I think the other is entertainment. When I watched the Superbowl in February, I was bored to tears until my friend and I made a $10 bet (which I won, thank you very much). All of a sudden I was invested in the winner of a game I normally could care less about. The time passed more quickly, and I was perhaps able to enjoy the social gathering in a different way than usual. Same principle can be applied to the lottery; buying a ticket it makes life a little more entertaining and now there’s something to look forward to when it’s time for the drawing. A little excitement has been created, a small risk has been taken, and there is a sense of anticipation about the possibilities.
Finally, I would say the last factor that comes into play is one that I’ve brought up before–that of cognitive dissonance. Even though logically we know that the odds of winning are very low, we convince ourselves that “it’s only $1, so why not?” For some, however, that daily $1 adds up to a lifetime of disappointment and loss. For others, like me, there’s a momentary flash in my mind of those Jimmy Choo’s I’ve been eyeing. And that’s enough–I plan to purchase a ticket tonight. Wish me luck.