Lotteries Most Popular Form of Gambling for Americans

by Mark Gillespie

Casinos, office pools also popular; Internet gambling still a long shot …


PRINCETON, NJ -- They can offer massive jackpots -- and a ticket just costs a dollar at your neighborhood store. For many Americans, picking up a lottery ticket has become routine, despite the massive odds against striking it rich. A new Gallup Poll Social Audit on gambling shows that 57% of Americans have bought a lottery ticket in the last 12 months, making lotteries by far the favorite choice of gamblers.

Nearly seven out of ten adults say that they have taken part in one of the many forms of legalized gambling in their lifetimes, but the ease with which one can buy a lottery ticket may be the reason for the popularity of state lotteries. Gallup polls dating back to 1989 -- before "Powerball," "The Big Game," and the other megabuck state lotteries -- show that almost as many Americans then as now -- 54% -- routinely plunk down a dollar for a chance to win millions.

Among other forms of legalized gambling, 31% of Americans have gambled in a casino within the last year, 25% have taken part in an office pool on the Super Bowl or another major sporting event, 20% have played a video poker machine, 13% have wagered on a professional sporting event, and 11% have played bingo for money. Riverboat gambling, horse and dog racing, and betting on college sports all show lower rates of participation. As is the case for state lotteries, the trend on horse and dog race betting and office pool participation has stayed fairly constant. On the other hand, participation in bingo has trended steadily downward since 1950, and betting on professional and college sports is also down from 1989, when Gallup first asked about these activities. The one form of gambling that shows an increase over time is video poker -- at 20%, up from 11% in 1992.

Interestingly, despite the outcry from some anti-gambling lawmakers over the explosion of gambling on the Internet, fewer than 1% of American adults have used the Internet for gambling within the past year.

Gallup's research also casts some doubt on a stereotype perpetuated by comedians like Jeff Foxworthy, who jokes "cultured folks have retirement plans, rednecks play the lottery." College graduates are more likely to have played the lottery than have high school dropouts (59% to 51%), and those earning $75,000 or more annually buy lottery tickets more often than do those earning less than $25,000 a year (56% to 53%). Still, lottery players span the entire range of demographic groups, and even 21% of those who strongly disapprove of gambling have set their feelings aside long enough to have bought at least one lottery ticket in the past year.

Other forms of legalized gambling also skew upscale. Casino gamblers are most likely to be white, male, college-educated, and in a higher income bracket -- 37% of those earning more than $75,000 annually have gambled in a casino in the past 12 months, compared to 23% of those earning less than $25,000. By contrast, more women than men play bingo, and 12% of high school graduates have played bingo in the past year, compared to 7% of college graduates.

What about illegal gambling? About one-fourth of Americans, 24%, say they have ever done any gambling "that was not completely legal," a slightly higher percentage than answered the same question in the affirmative in 1993.

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