Who Plays the Lottery and why?

By Ben Hamill - November 02 2015

How to Become a Lottery Retailer


You may think that your decision to purchase a lottery ticket is based on habit or whim but sociologists think differently. In a 2011 paper, published in the Journal of Gambling Studies, researchers show that there are many other factors in play here. Who plays the lottery in Canada? And why do they buy tickets, even when statistics demonstrate that their chances of winning are miniscule?

Studies conducted over the last few years show that the populations that are most likely to buy lottery tickets are

  • the young
  • the poor
  • minorities
  • people whose parents play/played the lottery
  • people who received lottery tickets/scratch cards/other lottery products as gifts during childhood or adolescence

Lottery Purchases Among the Poor

In the Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, researchers conducted an experiment that demonstrated that the psychological reasons that connect poverty and lottery play are complex. Researchers found that participants may be prepared to play games with such low odds because, by playing, they feel that they’re engaging in an activity in which the playing field is level and equal for all gamers. Everyone, rich or poor, has the same chance of winning.


In two separate surveys, conducted by the University of Buffalo and titled Gambling on the Lottery: Sociodemographic Correlates Across the Lifespan, it was noted that the highest proportion of non-Hispanic whites and Native Americans gambled on the lottery blacks and Native Americans averaged the most number of lottery ticket purchases.

The highest rate of lottery gambling, and the highest mean level of days gambled was seen amongst those with the lowest socioeconomic status. People in the highest three (out of five) socio-economic groups gambled the most infrequently on the lottery

In addition, that same study shows that blacks gamble on the lottery at a lower rate than whites but gamble more frequently. Finally, black and Hispanic groups were shown to have no significant difference in days gambled on the lottery than whites.


Researchers have noted that younger people play the lottery at a higher rate. People in their 20s and 30s tend to play the lottery more often with approximately 70% of 20 to 30 year-olds playing the lottery at least several times a year. The percentage of lottery players dips for people in their 40s, 50s and 60s to approximately 50%, and then declines another 5% for people aged 70 and older.

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Men play the lottery more frequently than women, at a rate of almost 20% more frequently than women.

Some other Demographics and Facts about Lottery Players

In addition to the demographics, studies have found other findings about lottery players — some of it rather surprising.

One interesting discovery is that many lottery players don’t actually play to win money. That’s a good lesson for marketers, who tend to emphasize cash prizes when they promote lottery games. It turns out however that many — in some demographics, most — lottery players participate because they enjoy the competition and like to participate in a “national” or “provincial” effort. Forty percent of lottery ticket buyers do so because they’re looking for fun. This is especially true of younger players, of whom 62% play for the experience, not the goal of winning. Approximately 75% of players believe that they will eventually win the lottery, so one in four people play without expecting to win.

For marketers, this means that it’s great to emphasize the monetary benefits of playing the lottery, but tickets are also sold when other elements, such as fun and excitement, are promoted.

Online Vs. Offline

Another trend that is important for lottery promoters is the fact that, although almost all Canadian lotteries are now accessible online, the majority of participants like the feel of buying tickets offline. Marketers can (and do) emphasize the convenience of buying tickets online, but it turns out that lottery players — 78%, in one survey — said they prefer to purchase in-store tickets rather than buy tickets online.

Many lottery players don’t quite trust online play. The numbers bear this out — less than one quarter of Canadian lottery ticket buyers purchase their tickets online. Also, many lottery participants believe that the lotteries are different online than they are when buying a ticket in-store. It’s possible to educate consumers about the mechanics of playing lottery online but marketers should also acknowledge that, for some people, half of the excitement involves buying their ticket in-person.

Men are actually more likely to play the lottery online (55% vs 42%) but men in general are more receptive to lottery online gaming.

Ontario Statistics

Statistics about Canadian players are available province by province. The largest provincial lottery, the Ontario Lottery, reports that lottery players in Ontario closely reflect the province’s adult population in every demographic measure, OLG has found that, statistically-speaking, no group, either by education, income or age, plays the lottery more than any other group. The statistics for Ontario match those of the general findings in that they indicate that half or more of Ontario adults play the lotto at least once every two months while almost a quarter of all Ontario adults play the lotto at least once a week.

Other Ontario statistics show that:

Core (buys a lottery ticket once a week) and current (buys a lottery ticket once every two months) lottery players have higher rates of full time employment than non-players. This may be related to group ticket purchases that people organize at their place of employment.

Non-players report a similar or lower household income that Core and Current lottery players.

Almost half of current players prefer to purchase tickets for the Draw Based games (e.g Lotto 6/49, LOTTO, etc.) but not Sports games or instant tickets. A very small percentage purchase Instant tickets exclusively. About half of ticket buyers purchase both Instant and Draw Based tickets (with or without Sports). Sports lottery tickets (PRO LINE, PRO PICKS or POINT SPREAD) are purchased an estimated 6% of ticket buyers in Ontario. Sports players tend to purchase lottery tickets at an above-average rate, except for tickets to the LOTTO 6/49.