Who Plays the Lottery? A 2023 Insight Into Lottery Demographics

By Dunja Radonic
Last Updated: March 6, 2023
Who Plays the Lottery? There are records of lotteries being played during the Han dynasty, between 205 and 187 BC, evidence of Roman Empire noblemen playing a kind of lottery during their dinner parties, as well as lottery tickets being sold during Emperor Augustus’s rule. In other words, lotteries have been a part of human history for, at the very least, two millennia. So, who plays the lottery today? Well, that's what we are going to try to find out with this article. Below you can find information on what the average lottery player looks like, where they come from, and a little bit about why they play the lottery. 

Who Plays the Lottery? 

The top 10% plays for the biggest jackpots as much as the bottom 10%.

Back in 2002, Emily Oster, a Harvard Graduate, wrote her thesis — Dreaming Big: Why Do People Play the Powerball? The thesis talks about who plays the lottery and why, including many relevant lottery player demographics One interesting point is the conclusion she reached on player backgrounds. Namely, in the US, both people from zip codes designated as rich and as poor play some form of the US lottery, be it national lotteries like Powerball or local state-run lotteries. However, while the low-income lottery players do buy substantially more tickets for lower prizes ($10 to $100 million), ticket sales per capita are almost the same for both groups when looking at the $125+ million prizes. On average, the top 10% spend $17 per capita on lottery tickets, while the bottom 10% spend $16.

53% of upper-income Americans play State and National lotteries, 13 percentage points more than the national average.

According to a Gallup poll, 40% of low-income US citizens bought a lottery ticket in the 12 months preceding said poll. However, lottery participation demographics show that 56% of middle-income Americans claimed they did the same, as did 53% of upper-income US citizens. In fact, 40% of the US population claimed they played some sort of lottery during the mentioned time period, showing that income is, in fact, inversely correlated to lottery purchases. 

College-educated Americans buy lottery tickets (slightly) more often.

Roughly 47% of Americans with a high school diploma or less claim they have purchased a lottery ticket. Demographics of lottery buyers show further similarity to Americans with a Masters's degree or higher, where 45% claimed they took part in the lottery.  However, of those that have some college education, or only a graduate degree, 53% claim they did the same. 

10% of low-income Americans claim gambling has been a source of problems in their families.

Conversely, 6% of middle-income Americans and 3% of upper-income Americans claimed the same.  The most likely cause is not necessarily the higher rate of gambling but rather the lower disposable income levels causing these issues.

In the US, men play the lottery 64% more than women.

According to a 2012 paper, Gambling on the Lottery: Sociodemographic Correlates Across the Lifespan, US lottery demographics skew towards men. The study also pointed out that this correlates with the higher levels of alcohol and substance abuse men have compared to women. However, the above value is a national average. On a state-by-state basis, the numbers do differ. For example, In Oregon, 52% of lottery players are women, while in Florida, men are in the lead with 51%.

In the US, 70% of individuals between the ages of twenty and thirty play the lottery. 

And the numbers decline with age, according to the same 2012 paper on lottery age demographics and lottery ticket buyers in general. Around two-thirds of people between 40 and 60 take part in the lottery, which further lowers to around 45% of people older than 70. 

Who Wins the Lottery?

70% of lottery winners DO NOT go broke within a couple of years.

A commonly shared statistic by multiple publications claims that most lottery winners quickly become bankrupt after they win. The statistic is often attributed to the National Endowment for Financial Education organization.  However, the NEFE has made it explicit that this is a misrepresentation of their 2001 study. A participant in their study, while speaking of the impact substantial windfalls have on an individual, has made that statement. However, the statement was never supported nor verified by the organization. In fact, it's impossible to make a viable study of lottery winners, and data on lottery winner demographics is kept secret since a large majority of them are anonymous. The most likely cause behind the continuation of this myth are the many news outlets reporting on the small number of people who have won the lottery, and who have subsequently made poor decisions. In other words — you do not know anything about most of the people who won the lottery because a) they are mostly anonymous, and b) articles about people being smart with their money do not gather traffic. 

Two Hundred Million Strikes of Lightning

Or rather, the odds of somebody winning the US lottery are 1 in 292.2 million, while the odds of getting struck by lightning are 1 in 1,222,000.  We think that sums up the article nicely. So, keep in mind that the odds of winning the lottery are infinitesimal. Still, one can always dream. Just remember that there are many myths when it comes to who plays the lottery, and we have hopefully dispelled at least some of them.

Lottery Player Demographics FAQ

How many people play the lottery?

Depends on the region. According to a Gallup poll, at least 49% of the adult US population have bought at least one state lottery ticket in the 12 months preceding said poll. That's almost 129 million people. In the UK, a government-backed survey containing the demographics of lottery players showed similar results. Namely, 44% of its respondents, all older than 16, also claimed to have played some kind of national lottery game in the 12 months preceding the survey. So, one estimate is that 18.26 million people play the lottery in the UK.

What is the average spending per lottery player?

It somewhat depends on the study, but in America, the average lottery player spends somewhere between $70 and $86 a month on tickets. That amounts to almost $1,000 a year. In the UK, the average lottery player spends somewhere between £400 and £500, or $480 and $600 a year. However, one needs to keep in mind that the above are average numbers, not median numbers. In other words, there are people who might buy a single ticket per year and others who spend thousands upon thousands on the lottery.

How much money is spent on lottery tickets each year?

In the United Kingdom, the National Lottery generated more than £8 billion ($9.58 billion) during its 2021/2022 fiscal year. In the US, however, the numbers are substantially higher. During the 2022 fiscal year, sales reached over $107 billion.