Against all odds: the lottery craze

There are national lotteries in more than 100 countries around the globe, and, as the prizes gets larger, so does the lottery industry

In the United States, for example, lottery ticket sales rose 17% in 2021, generating over $94.9 billion. High jackpots are the main draw of national lottery games, but with the odds of winning estimated to be approximately one in 14 million, why do so many people play? Well, if one isn’t excessive in the number of tickets one purchases, playing the lottery is fairly affordable. It is also a pretty simple game to play: simply pick a set of numbers, then cross your fingers. 

In this article, we take a closer look at the lottery culture that is sweeping the world. 

How lotteries began

Lotteries have been around for over two millennia, with lotteries having seen use by Roman emperors to transfer slaves and property. The first recorded lottery game ever played was in Bruges, Belgium, in 1466, and was intended to aid the poor.

The Virginia Company of London was established in 1606, with the intention of setting up a colony in North America. In circa 1612, the company began holding lotteries to raise money, eventually raising an astounding $29,000 (almost £8 million in today's currency). Lotteries were one of the main ways the 13 colonies received funding. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the colonies used lotteries to pay for colleges, churches and libraries. Nowadays, lotteries are a common way of distributing money and funding political campaigns.

How many people participate in lotteries?

It is estimated that approximately 45 million adults in the UK, or 70% of the population over 18, routinely participate in the national lottery. Additionally, more than half of the public participates frequently, on average purchasing three tickets every week, while many people buy multiple tickets in an effort to boost their chances of winning.

Interestingly, genders seem to be represented equally in the UK lottery, where the ratio of participating men to women is equal. However, while those in lower income employment regularly take part in lotteries, wealthy people and those in higher income employment typically appear less likely to do so.

In the USA, 57% of the population (or, 181 million people) buy at least one lottery ticket each year, though, unlike in the UK, in the USA men are more likely to purchase lottery tickets. In America, those between the ages of 30–64 purchase the most lottery tickets. However, those aged 50–64 tend to spend the most per week. People over 65 and those between the ages of 18 and 29 are less likely to buy multiple tickets, while those who make between $30,000 and $50,000 per year are the most likely to purchase tickets.

The Biggest Lottery Jackpots Won 

Since the first draw in February 2004, there have been an increasing number of EuroMillions jackpot winners, with prizes ranging from €10 million to €230 million. The EuroMillions draw features Europe’s highest jackpots, with the largest (€230 million) registered on July 8, 2022, while the next will be capped at a staggering €240 million.

The $2 billion Powerball jackpot set a record for the biggest lottery prize in the USA. Other than the incredible amount of money on offer, it grabbed headlines for other reasons. No lottery winner was revealed early on Tuesday, November 8, as anxious players waited for the results, with technical difficulties — most likely brought on by a flurry of ticket sales — forcing the draw to be postponed. With $1.586 billion won on January 13, 2016, Powerball also holds the record for the second-largest jackpot. Three winners from California, Tennessee and Florida split the prize.

Another US record was set on October 23, 2018, representing the second time in history that a lottery prize had surpassed a billion dollars. In the case of this draw, the most remarkable aspect is that only one winning ticket was claimed, belonging to one lucky winner in South Carolina. This prize of $1.537 billion remains the largest that has ever been won on a single ticket.

Final thoughts

It has been said that the likelihood of being struck by lightning is, in fact, substantially higher than the likelihood of winning the lottery. Nonetheless, despite the fact that the majority of people are aware of this information, the lottery continues to be extremely popular, its appeal remaining high in spite of the low chance of success. The opportunity to win hundreds of millions of dollars is ultimately, it seems, viewed as a minor risk worth taking when purchasing lottery tickets. 

Disclaimer: Play responsibly. For help, visit Players must be over 18