When the desire to 'win big' becomes a costly obsession

Photo: Shutterstcock
Photo: Shutterstcock 

We've all wondered what we'd do if we won the lottery, but for some families the desire to 'win big' becomes a costly obsession.

While buying lottery tickets is often seen as just a bit of harmless fun, for many families they simply can't afford to be spending the money.

According to the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation (VRGF) the latest available figures (Australian Gambling Statistics, 33rd edition) show Australians lost $1.9 billion, or $102 per adult, on lotteries in 2015–16.

"Depending on the options, the cost of a lottery ticket is upwards of $10, but the odds against winning the big prizes are very high," the VRGF spokesperson said.

"Systems, where you buy more numbers in each game, can be a trap because the price for these escalates rapidly while the odds of winning first prize, while mathematically improving, still remain extreme." 

While buying the occasional lottery ticket is not problematic, some people would be more at risk.

"People who begin gambling at a young age or who have a big win early in their gambling experiences are at greater risk of developing gambling problems as an adult," the spokesperson said. 

Relationships Australia NSW Couple and Family Counsellor Jennifer Douglas said there was research to suggest that the "biggest patrons of lottery tickets are from poor communities".

"These are the families who may not feel they will ever get ahead without a big windfall," she said.

"Lottery tickets provide a sense of perceived hope and opportunity and despite the extremely low statistics on the probability of winning, the notion of 'you have got to be in to win it' plays to an 'availability bias'.  

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"There is this idea that the money is available to anyone to win, in spite of your class, financial status and level of education."

She said during hard financial times the sales of lottery tickets often goes up.

"Paradoxically families under financial pressure may also have a sense they have a higher proportion of discretionary funds to spend on lottery tickets because there is no point in trying to save for a house, a car or even a holiday if you don't believe you will have the means to buy one." 

Ms Douglas said while it could start out as harmless, could also escalate into an addiction.

"In some instances, losing may reinforce the 'near miss effect' for example if they missed out by one number, or someone they identify with is a winner, they may then beef up further efforts to try and win, by more frequent and substantial investments," she said. 

Ms Douglas said there were other ways to deal with financial pressure, rather than hoping for a lottery win.

  • First you need to recognise that the family is under pressure such as struggling to make ends meet, increasing debts, shifts in mood, escalating conflict and increased alcohol and substance use.
  • Identify the greatest sources of pressure. If it is financial pressure, start by accurately noting what spending is taking place.
  • Note that these pressures rarely improve by themselves and usually escalate over time. Plan manageable small steps to relieve some of the pressure.
  • Be open to the idea that you may need to challenge some of the beliefs and behaviours that have become problematic solutions, including trying to win your way out of problem.
  • Seek assistance, and support, including sound budgeting and financial advice. 
  • Finally, get the family to join forces as a team to address any ongoing family pressure. Families are stronger together.

If you are experiencing financial hardship, she suggests getting in contact with Relationships Australia.