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What percentage of the population play the lottery?

The lottery is a popular form of gambling in many countries around the world. Lotteries offer the chance to win big prizes for a small wager, making them an attractive option for many people looking to try their luck. But just how many people actually play the lottery on a regular basis? What percentage of the population are active lottery players? Here, we will examine lottery participation rates across different countries to get an idea of how popular lotteries really are globally.

Lottery Playing Rates by Country

Lottery playing rates vary significantly across different countries and regions. In some countries, lotteries are massively popular with high participation rates. In other areas, lotteries have failed to gain much traction and are played by only a small percentage of the population.

Looking at global lottery playing statistics, we see:

  • In the United States, around 57% of adults reported playing the lottery in the past 12 months according to a 2021 survey. This equates to over 150 million Americans who play the lottery each year.
  • In the United Kingdom, around 48% of adults reported playing the National Lottery draw-based games at least once in the past 12 months according to 2019 stats. This equates to around 24 million UK lottery players.
  • In Canada, around 56% of adult Canadians reported purchasing lottery tickets in the previous year according to 2020 statistics.
  • In Australia, lottery playing rates are around 39% among adults according to Roy Morgan research conducted in 2019.
  • In Germany, around 38% of adults reported playing lotteries like EuroJackpot and Lotto 6aus49 in the past year based on 2017 data.
  • In Sweden, only 17% of adults said they played the lottery in the previous 6 months according to 2018 data from the Swedish gambling regulator.
  • In Norway, around 28% of adults reported playing the national lottery games in the past year according to 2017 data.

As we can see, lottery playing rates are quite high in countries like the US, UK, Canada and Australia where a majority of adults play lottery games regularly. But in some Nordic countries like Sweden and Norway, lotteries are less popular with participation rates below 30%.

Factors Influencing Lottery Play Rates

What factors cause such big differences in lottery participation rates between countries? Here are some of the key factors that influence how popular lotteries are in a given country:

  • Availability and promotion – Places where lotteries are widely available and heavily marketed tend to have higher play rates. Easy access encourages participation.
  • Jackpot size – The size of lottery jackpots is a major motivator. Bigger jackpots generate more interest and ticket sales.
  • Population demographics – Lotteries tend to be more popular among lower income groups. Countries with higher poverty rates often have higher lottery play.
  • Taxation – Heavy taxes on lottery winnings can deter players in some countries.
  • Alternative gambling options – In places with casinos and sports betting, lotteries may be less popular.
  • Government backing – Lotteries run by the government tend to be more trusted than private lotteries.
  • Regulations – Strict regulations can limit lottery participation in some countries.
  • Culture and values – In some cultures, gambling is frowned upon or considered taboo.

Considering these factors, it is not surprising that the United States has one of the highest lottery participation rates globally. Lotteries are readily available across the US, heavily marketed, and able to roll over to create giant jackpots. The absence of accessible casino gambling in many parts of the US also helps drive lottery ticket sales.

Breakdown of Lottery Play Frequency

Looking beyond just the percentage of adults who play the lottery, we can also break down lottery players by frequency of play:

  • Frequent – Playing the lottery at least once per week.
  • Regular – Playing the lottery around once per month.
  • Occasional – Playing the lottery a few times per year.

In the United States, lottery play frequency among adults breaks down as follows:

  • Frequent: 15% play once per week or more
  • Regular: 15% play about once per month
  • Occasional: 27% play a few times a year

So in America, around 30% of adults could be considered frequent or regular players, while another quarter play lotteries occasionally as entertainment a few times a year. Less than half of US adults never play lotteries at all.

In the UK, play frequency among National Lottery players breaks down as:

  • Frequent: 18% play at least once per week
  • Regular: 15% play 1-3 times per month
  • Occasional: 15% play less than once per month

Again this shows that around one-third of UK adults play National Lottery games somewhat regularly, with over half of players participating weekly or monthly.

Demographics of Lottery Players

Examining the demographics of lottery players can also provide useful insights into who plays the lottery most frequently. In the United States, lottery playing rates are highest among the following demographic groups:

  • Low income – Around 61% of adults with incomes under $25k play the lottery
  • No college degree – Around 63% of adults with a high school diploma or less play the lottery
  • African Americans – Around 59% of African Americans play the lottery
  • Ages 45-64 – Around 61% of middle-aged adults play the lottery

In contrast, groups with lower lottery participation rates include:

  • High income – Only around 49% of adults with incomes over $100k play the lottery
  • College graduates – Around 43% of adults with a college degree play the lottery
  • Ages 18-29 – Around 44% of young adults play the lottery

This data reflects some consistent trends where lottery play is more popular among lower income households, those without higher education, middle-aged and older adults, and certain ethnic groups like African Americans.

Reasons for Demographic Differences

There are a few potential reasons why lottery play skews towards certain demographics:

  • Lotteries may appeal as a chance for upward economic mobility for lower income groups.
  • Less educated people may be more susceptible to lottery marketing tactics.
  • Middle-aged and older adults may have more disposable income for lottery tickets.
  • Some groups may view playing the lottery as a social or recreational activity.

While the demographics clearly show significant variations, it is important to note that lotteries still attract players across all demographic groups to some degree. Major lottery jackpots in particular tend to generate more universal interest and ticket sales.

Spending on the Lottery

In addition to looking at participation rates, we can examine what portion of income and total gambling outlay goes towards lottery tickets. This gives a sense of how much priority people place on playing the lottery.

In the United States, lottery spending among players breaks down as follows:

  • Low income (under $25k per year) spend around 1.5% of income on the lottery.
  • Middle income ($25k – $75k) spend around 0.5% of income.
  • High income (over $100k) spend around 0.2% of income.

Among all gambling expenditures in the United States, around 51% goes toward lottery tickets – far exceeding other forms of gambling.

In the UK, National Lottery players report spending the following each month:

  • Occasional players: £4 per month
  • Regular players: £12 per month
  • Frequent players: £25 per month

This equates to around £100 per year for the average UK lottery player. Total spending on the lottery in the UK exceeds £7 billion annually.

These figures indicate that while most lottery players only spend a small fraction of their income, those who play more frequently can spend thousands per year accumulating tickets. Lotteries attract significantly more consumer spending than other gambling products.

Motivations for Playing the Lottery

Understanding why people choose to play the lottery can also provide insight into the appeal of lotteries compared to other forms of gambling or entertainment. Some of the main motivations cited by lottery players include:

  • Dreaming about winning big – The excitement and fantasy of planning how to spend jackpot winnings.
  • Low cost entertainment – Lottery tickets provide affordable entertainment and fun compared to other options.
  • Contributing to good causes – Many lotteries donate revenue to worthy causes.
  • Social experience – Playing the lottery pools and discussing results with friends or coworkers.
  • Gambling enjoyment – Lotteries satisfy the human desire for gambling and games of chance.
  • Hope for financial security – A chance to pay debts, buy homes, or gain long-term financial freedom.

These motivational factors help explain the appeal of lotteries as a discretionary leisure activity, despite the very low odds of winning substantial prizes. Lotteries allow players to daydream and escape, take a low cost gamble, support good causes, bond over ticketing pooling, and gain hope of life-changing winnings.

The Role of Jackpots

One additional factor plays a major role in driving lottery motivation and participation – giant jackpot sizes. When lotteries roll over for many weeks without a winner, the top prize can swell to staggering amounts. In the United States, both the Mega Millions and Powerball lotteries have exceeded $1 billion in jackpot size on multiple occasions. These enormous jackpots capture public interest and motivation far beyond just regular players.

In fact, around 65% of Americans report they would not play the lottery or purchase tickets unless the jackpot exceeded $500 million. But when jackpots pass the $1 billion mark, up to 86% of Americans say they are motivated to play and try their luck.

So while relatively modest jackpots attract steady frequent lottery players, it is the prospect of mind-blowingly enormous jackpots that causes more universal interest across wider demographics.

Problem Gambling and Lotteries

While most people play the lottery responsibly for entertainment, there are risks of problem gambling patterns developing. It is estimated that around 1% of lottery players exhibit signs of gambling addiction and problems. Key risk factors include:

  • Spending excessive amounts of income on tickets
  • Chasing losses by trying to win back money
  • Borrowing money to fund lottery gambling
  • Jeopardizing relationships or responsibilities to play
  • Inability to control or stop playing

For a small minority with tendencies towards addictive behaviors, lotteries carry heightened risks as they are so readily accessible. Responsible gambling advocates recommend setting a budget for lottery play and avoiding chasing losses. Seeking help for gambling addiction is advisable if play becomes problematic.


In summary, lottery participation rates vary widely across different countries but tend to exceed 50% of adults in places where lotteries are readily available and promoted. In the United States and UK, large majorities of adults play lottery games occasionally, with around one-third participating on a frequent or regular basis. Lower income groups and those without higher education play lotteries at higher rates, allocating a greater portion of income to ticket purchases. While giant jackpot sizes motivate more universal interest, smaller prizes and low cost entertainment keep frequent players engaged. For most lottery participants, playing responsibly for fun is the norm. But the convenience of lotteries means they can pose risks for the minority prone to problem gambling.