When people play the lottery, they are willing to give up a small piece of their money for a chance to win a much larger sum. They believe that if they do, they will be blessed with the opportunity to change their lives, to make things better. This is why the super-sized jackpots of lotteries drive sales, even though most players know that the chances of winning are very low.

The origin of the lottery can be traced back centuries to events such as the Old Testament instruction to Moses to divide the land among Israel’s people by lot and emperors’ use of lotteries to give away slaves and property during Saturnalian feasts. The idea was introduced to America by British colonists, and while initial reaction was mostly negative, it did not dissuade the Continental Congress from establishing a lottery to raise funds for the Revolution.

Today, state-sponsored lotteries are popular in 44 states and over 100 countries. From instant-gratification scratch-off tickets to number games like Powerball, the game has become a ubiquitous part of daily life. In addition to their commercial appeal, lotteries are often a source of government revenue.

Rich people do play the lottery, of course; one of the largest Powerball jackpots was a quarter of a billion dollars and was won by three asset managers from Greenwich, Connecticut. But the wealthy buy fewer tickets than their poorer counterparts, and when they do, their purchases represent a smaller percentage of their income.