Lotteries - Lottery Player Demographics

respondents survey gambling money

A national poll conducted by the Gallup Organization in December 2003 found that 49% of adults had purchased a lottery ticket within the previous year. (See Figure 7.3.) The percentage is the lowest recorded since 1989. In 1999 a Gallup poll found that 15% of teenagers aged thirteen to seventeen had purchased a lottery ticket within the previous year.

In general, public opinion polls consistently show high approval ratings for lotteries as a means of raising


public funds. The results of a lottery question from the most recent national gambling poll conducted in 1999 by the Gallup Organization are summarized in Table 7.4 and compared to previous years. Approval of state lotteries for cash prizes has remained strong since the late 1980s, with 75% of adults and 82% of teenagers expressing favorable opinions in 1999.

Lottery demographics were reported in the October/November 2001 issue of Lottery Insights, the official publication of the NASPL. The article uses data from the NGISC and the National Opinion Research Center (NORC). The study found that just more than half of the U.S. adult population purchased at least one lottery ticket during 1998. Those aged thirty to sixty-four were most likely to purchase lottery tickets. However, the amount spent on lottery tickets varied by age. People aged fifty to sixty-four spent the most—an average of $6.72 the last time they purchased lottery tickets. The youngest (eighteen to twenty-nine) and oldest (sixty-five and up) adults spent the least amount.

In 1998 NORC interviewed nearly 3,000 people as part of a survey on lottery participation and spending in the United States. The final results represent data on 2,867 people. The respondents were characterized by demographics and asked about their lottery play during the previous year, month, and week. The survey indicated that approximately half of the respondents had played the lottery during the previous year. However, researchers discovered


Public opinion on states' use of lotteries to raise revenue, selected years 1989–99
No Opinion
SOURCE: Adapted from "Question 2C. Please tell me whether you approve or disapprove of each of the following types of betting as a way to help your state raise revenue. Lotteries for cash prizes?" in Gambling in America, The Gallup Organization, June 22,1999, (accessed September 26, 2004) Copyright © 1999 by The Gallup Organization. Reproduced by permission of The Gallup Organization.
Adults (18 +) 99 Apr 30–May 23 75 24 1 1,523
96 Jun 27–30 77 22 1 1,004
92 Nov 20–22 75 24 1 1,007
89 Apr 4–9 78 21 1 1,208
Teens (13–17) 99 Apr 30–May 23 82 18 501

that only 5% of the players accounted for 54% of the group's total lottery spending. The vast majority of the group's lottery spending (82%) was due to the play of only 20% of the respondents. The survey concluded that a relatively small group of "heavy" players are responsible for most lottery sales.

Some characteristics of the heaviest lottery players are listed in Table 7.5. The NORC survey found that:

  • Men are slightly more likely to play lottery games than women.
  • Participation is lowest for those aged sixty-four and up.
  • Single people spend less on lottery tickets than married or divorced people.
  • Per capita lottery spending is highest for those aged forty-five to sixty-four years.
  • Participation rates do not differ significantly by race or ethnicity. However, per capita spending by African-Americans is higher than for any other group.
  • Per capita spending is higher for those respondents who did not complete high school and for low-income households.

NORC respondents did not have overly rosy views about payout and win rates. Most (63%) thought that lotteries paid out less than 25% of total sales as prizes. (The actual payout percentage is around 50%.) The vast majority (86%) of those who had played the lottery during the previous year indicated that they had lost more money than they had won. Only 8% of respondents believed that they had made money playing the lottery.


Characteristics of the top 20% of lottery purchasers, 1999
Demographic group Percentage of heaviest players Percentage of US adults
Note: Heaviest lottery players defined as those in the top 20% of lottery purchasers.
SOURCE: Charles T. Clotfelter, Philip J. Cook, Julie A. Edell, and Marian Moore. "Table 12: Characteristics of Heaviest Lottery Players," in State Lotteries at the Turn of the Century: Report to the National Gambling Impact Study Commission, U.S. Government Printing Office and University of North Texas Libraries, April 23, 1999
Male 61.4% 48.5%
Black 25.4% 12.2%
High school dropouts 20.3% 12.3%
Household income under $10,000 9.7% 5.0%
Median age 47.5 43.0

GTECH Corporation is a major supplier of equipment to the gambling industry. The company conducted its most recent national survey on gaming during July 2000. According to the survey of 1,200 adults nationwide, lotteries were considered an acceptable form of entertainment by 65% of respondents. As Figure 7.4 shows, nearly three-quarters of those surveyed were in favor of states operating lotteries. Favor was highest among those under thirty-five years old, who had an 83% favorability rating. Approval decreased with age, as 72% of those aged thirty-five to fifty-four favored state lotteries, as opposed to 63% of those aged fifty-five and up.

Seventy percent of survey respondents in lottery states in 2000 indicated that they would vote in favor of continuing their lottery. Support at the ballot box is slightly higher among Democrats (70%) than among Republicans (61%). In nonlottery states, the survey shows that 66% of respondents would vote in favor of a state lottery if given the chance.

Fifty-four percent of those asked believed that lotteries keep taxes lower. (See Figure 7.5.) As shown in Figure 7.6, lotteries are favored over higher taxes as a means of raising revenue by more than a three-to-one margin. Survey respondents provided the following as the main benefits of lotteries:

  • Provide funding for education and other programs (42%)
  • Entertainment/fun/can win money (15%)
  • Keep taxes lower (15%)
  • Jobs/economy/revenue (8%)

Education was deemed the most appropriate use of lottery proceeds by 54% of respondents, compared with roads/public transportation (17%), long-term care for the elderly (8%), and protecting the environment (7%). Support for education as the most appropriate use of lottery revenue declined with age. Seventy percent of those asked believed that some lottery proceeds should fund research into understanding and helping problem gamblers.

Survey respondents were more likely to play the lottery if proceeds go to specific causes. Sixty-five percent of those asked would be more likely to play the lottery if funds were set aside for a specific cause rather than going into a state's general fund. When asked about problems facing the lottery industry, 27% of respondents indicated that insufficient prize money is the most important problem. Improper use of lottery proceeds was selected by 24% of respondents. Other problems included underage gambling (12%), lack of funding for research into problem gambling (11%), and too much advertising (5%).

The disadvantages or weaknesses of state-sponsored lotteries that survey respondents named are as follows:

  • People wasting money who cannot afford to do so (33%)
  • Misuse of lottery money (24%)
  • Compulsive gambling (17%)
  • Players not winning enough money (13%)
  • Promotion of gambling (10%)

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