Sunday, March 11, 2007

Addiction to lotteries

Lotteries used to be big business in Tamil Nadu in the 1990s. Estimates of people's spending on lotteries were in the range of thousands of crores of rupees a year. Interestingly, most of the lotteries sold there used to be from the north-eastern states: Manipur, Mizoram, etc., and the state lottery issued by Tamil Nadu had commanded just a tiny market share. Probably motivated by this fact, the previous regime under J. Jayalalithaa (aka 'Puratchi Thalaivi' or Revolutionary Leader) banned lotteries altogether, and the huge enterprise came crashing down.

During lotto's heydays in Tamil Nadu, vendors peddled an egregious (and illegal) scheme that promised immediate prizes. Lotto buyers had to scratch the ticket to uncover the hidden number, and claim the prize if it matched the number displayed by the vendor. I'm sure the prospect of instant gratification helped reinforce the buyer's addiction to lotteries. And a lot of people were really addicted to this very shady enterprise.

In an interesting artlcle in the NYTimes Benedict Carey examines some interesting findings on lotto addiction. Here's one of them:

... [T]he hope of a huge payoff, however remote, is itself a source of pleasure. In brain-imaging studies of drug users, as well as healthy adults placing bets, neuroscientists have found that the prospect of a reward activates the same circuits in the brain that the payoffs themselves do.