Man, these are some big numbers. The Mega Millions jackpot is at a record $540 million and counting. So even a lot of people who ordinarily don't buy lottery tickets are jumping in, despite the 1-in-175 million odds of winning the whole thing:
". . . To say I’m a skeptic, that’s an understatement. But it’s fun to have a horse in the race,” Colacioppo added. “Unless it’s a record (jackpot), I never do it. I think most people who regularly don’t play the lottery but who are playing this time just think: Oh, it’s a buck and everybody’s in it, and isn’t it exciting?”
So from a psychological view, what’s the tipping point that finally tempts folks who rarely jump into the lottery pool to take flying a leap? It is $300 million, $400 million, $500 million? Or, like Colacioppo said, is it when the jackpot hits a new record and the lottery becomes national news, becomes trendy?
“Your question is a good one. But alas, I am not aware of any study that actually tries to quantify the tipping point,” said Romel Mostafa, assistant professor of business, economics, and public policy at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario.
I think I can help the professor out, since I'm one of those rare players who get lured in once in a while. I buy a ticket on those occasions when the jackpot gets so big that it becomes a news story. That only makes me think about buying a ticket when I'm someplace that has them. It doesn't make me go out of the way to get one.
I have a complaint, by the way. All the stories I've seen about the jackpot are a little fast and loose when it comes to talking about the odds. Like this: “There’s a greater chance of me winning the Nobel Peace Prize." Or this:
Based on other U.S. averages, you’re about 8,000 times more likely to be murdered than to win the lottery, and about 20,000 times more likely to die in a car crash than hit the lucky numbers, Catalano said.
You shouldn't compare something that's merely random chance with something that depends on many contributing factors. Whether I win the Nobel Peach Prize isn't just a matter of calculating odds -- it depends on how I've lived my life, what the world situation is, what mood the prize awarders are in -- wwll, you get the idea.