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Want lottery magic...or to beat these odds?

Allen Wastler

Posted on January 11, 2023

Allen Wastler is a former financial journalist with over 30-years of experience, including time at CNBC, CNN, and Knight-Ridder Newspapers.
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Remind you that while lottery jackpots have been getting bigger and bigger, the odds against winning are astronomical.

Describe the two psychological reasons that get people to spend their money on tickets.

Point out that when compared with the odds of suffering a disability, there's a smarter bet.

There’s been a lot of big lottery jackpots in recent years. Powerball and Mega Millions, two of the major multi-state games, are seeing prizes climb into the hundreds of millions of dollars on a routine basis.

Indeed, jackpots have surged past the $1 billion at points. And since then jackpots have continued to approach that psychologically hefty number from time to time.

Of course, the odds against winning the lottery climb right along with the jackpot numbers. And even before the lottery prizes get huge the odds are pretty astronomical, starting at a base of about 1 in 292 million for Powerball alone. Mega Millions? Over 1 in 302 million.

So why do people keep playing?

There are two main reasons, according to oft-cited research from a pair of psychologists in Psychology Today.1

First is a bandwagon mentality, people want to be part of the popular trend. So, when the media fans the flames of lottery prizes, people jump on board, they said.

The second reason for playing the lottery? People are hoping for a magic cure to their economic ills.

“In an era of financial uncertainly and global change, many of us are unsure of our financial and personal direction,” wrote Stephen Goldbart and Joan DiFuria. “The map to finding the American Dream has been radically altered, and using old navigation systems may just keep us running in place or running in circles. So when we have been afflicted by what we have called the ‘financial anxiety epidemic’ in which we feel tired, uncertain of what to do, and disempowered, we may seek a magic pill to make us feel better.”

In the absence of a magic pill, however, are some concrete steps people could take on the financial front, such as retirement planning and budgeting, to make themselves feel more secure. (Yes, we’re MassMutual, so of course we’re going to point that out).

Indeed, such moves are probably a smarter play on the odds. There’s a one-in-four chance that a 20-year-old will be too sick or injured to work sometime during their career, according to the Social Security Administration.2 Hence the need for disability income insurance. (Calculator: How would a disability affect me?)

But we all like to daydream, and buying a “magic” lottery ticket is a fairly inexpensive way to do that … provided you’ve done the real things first.

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This story was first published in January, 2016. It has been updated.


1 Psychology Today, “Lottery-it is!” March 30, 2012.

2 Social Security Administration, “Faces and Facts of Disability.”

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The information provided is not written or intended as specific tax or legal advice. MassMutual, its employees and representatives are not authorized to give tax or legal advice. You are encouraged to seek advice from your own tax or legal counsel. Opinions expressed by those interviewed are their own, and do not necessarily represent the views of Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company.