The California lottery's Mega Millions jackpot is up to $100 million (Mega-Millions is actually a multi-state lottery, an aggregate of 42 lotteries). That's a pretty nice chunk of change and should bring out many more players, even infrequent ones — and even ones who never play. What we're talking about here are the people who understand the odds against winning. So why would they change their minds, simply because the jackpot has crossed a threshold?
For starters, you have to understand why these folks don't play. The site Strange Loops explains:
Odds of winning big are less than the ratio of ticket cost to amount won. If $1 has a 1 in 1-billion chance of netting you 500 million dollars, it’s a really bad deal. Why?
Let’s say you could play the lottery over and over and over again an unlimited number of times. After a trillion plays, on average you’d win about 1000 times (roughly once every billion draws). That’s 1000 x $500 million = $500 billion won, but you’ve spent a trillion ($1000 billion) to play. So you’ve wasted a lot of money in the long run. Even if the chances of winning are closer to the cost and win amount ratio, if the odds are lower than the cost and win amount ratio, then it’s generally a bad deal.
So traditional economics says not to play the lottery.