Why we play the lottery

The chances of winning Lotto (New Zealand Lottery)
3,838,380 to 1

The chances of being killed by an asteroid
3,500,000 to 1

The chances of drowning in your bath
685,000 to 1

We play the lottery against extremely poor odds because our brains are hard-wired to look for positive reinforcement. If we win $10 on the lottery we’ll feel like winners even if we spent $30 to do so. We hear about a friend of an auntie’s neighbour who won the ‘big one’ and it stands out in our mind. We don’t place the same importance on all the millions of misses that no one talks about.

The same thing is true of horoscopes. We pick out a sentence or just a couple of words and because they might just apply to us (usually because they’re fairly generic) we recognise it as a hit.

I admit that there is a certain rush that comes with gambling which can be given a monetary value but I would say that most people, deep down, are expecting a big win one day and almost all of them will give a lot more than they get. This is fine for those with extra income but many gamblers are on benefits or are at the poorer end of the scale and should be spending their money more wisely.

In the last financial year, New Zealanders spent a total of $1,977,000,000 on gambling and I would bet (hyuk hyuk) that just about every dollar spent expected a return of some kind. Perhaps critical thinking should be a subject taught at school?

Bah humbug.

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