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Why We Buy More Lottery Tickets as Odds Worsen

The Mega Millions jackpot skyrockets, spurring many Americans to play the lottery.

Credit: Matt Rourke/ AP Images
Credit: Matt Rourke/ AP Images

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Feeling a little strapped for cash after all of the holiday expenditures, I suggested to my husband that we pick up a lottery ticket. My logic was that the current Mega Millions jackpot is more than a half a billion dollars, and hey, we could use that money.

“Our chances of winning now are worse than ever,” he scoffed.

True, with such enormous odds—about 1 in 259 million of hitting all six numbers correctly—it’s a long shot. A revamp of the Mega Millions system this past October accounts for the new astronomic unlikeliness of winning. A few months ago, my odds would have been a mere 1 in 176 million.

As someone who never plays the lottery, I’m not picking the most opportune time to jump in.

And it looks like I’m not alone.

Professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Arlington, Daniel Levine says that people like me are “drawn to the fact that there is a chance that they'll win, and they're not thinking about the numbers. Our decisions don't always fall into a rational model."

Speaking of irrationality: According to Virginai Otto, the Mega Millions lead director, “We've never had a jackpot at this level in December leading into the holidays. If we keep rolling, we could well be at a billion dollars going into Christmas."

How would you resist putting a (statistically insignificant) chance to win a billion dollars in a stocking?

I’m not getting too excited, especially considering that it’s about nine times more likely that I will be made a saint than it is that I’ll hit that 550 million jackpot on Tuesday night.

Still, until I know for sure that I’m not that one in 259 million, I think I’ll continue to contemplate -- lump sum or incremental payout?

Are you more tempted to buy a lottery ticket when the jackpot is extraordinarily high? Tell us in the comments or in a blog post.

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