Lottery play is a form of gambling in which money or prizes are distributed to a number of people through a random process. Although there are several other types of gambling, including card games and sports betting, lottery play is the most common. Many critics of gambling argue that state-sponsored lotteries promote addictive and abusive gambling behaviors, are a major regressive tax on low income households, and contribute to social problems such as crime and domestic abuse. Proponents of state-sponsored lotteries cite their economic benefits, including increased tax revenue and reduced illegal gambling activities, as justification for continuing to fund these gambling operations.

This article examines the relationship between demographic factors and frequency of lottery playing using data from two national U.S. household surveys conducted among youth and adults with comparable telephone sampling procedures and measures of gambling behavior. The survey of young people (ages 14 to 21 years) was conducted in 1999 – 2000 and the sample of adults (18 years or older) was drawn from a nationwide probability sample in 2005 – 2007.

The results of these two surveys suggest that age is an important predictor of lottery play, with the younger group reporting the lowest levels of past year participation. As the age of the respondent increases, lottery play decreases. This pattern is consistent with other studies that have examined a wide range of sociodemographic predictors of gambling.

In addition to age, the results of this study also indicate that lottery play is positively associated with socioeconomic status and racial/ethnic characteristics. The lower third of the SES scale is a significant predictor of lottery playing, as is being an African American or Hispanic respondent. In multivariate analyses, however, these effects disappear when census-based neighborhood disadvantage is included in the model.

The analysis further indicates that different formats of lottery play have distinct structural properties, which affect the likelihood of gambling problems developing. For example, daily lottery games and instant tickets are characterized as pure chance wagers whereas raffle tickets and sports betting involve elements of skill. Moreover, there is an interaction between age and the effects of lottery legality, with those in their thirties through fifties reporting a higher level of past year lottery playing than those in their twenties and thirties and a lower level of past year lottery playing for those over 70 years of age.

The results of this study also show that lottery play is a highly social activity with many participants participating in multiple games at once. This behavior appears to reinforce a sense of community belonging and offers a way for lottery players to interact with one another in ways that are not possible in other forms of gambling such as casino gaming. This finding supports a broader ecological perspective on gambling. The current literature on the impact of gambling on society is not exhaustive, but it suggests that gambling and its effect on social cohesion may warrant further empirical investigation. big77