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Can Expected Utility Theory Explain Gambling?

  • Roger Hartley
  • Lisa Farrell

We investigate the ability of expected utility theory to account for simultaneous gambling and insurance. Contrary to a previous claim that borrowing and lending in perfect capital markets removes the demand for gambles, we show expected utility theory with nonconcave utility functions can explain gambling. When the rates of interest and time preference are equal, agents seek to gamble unless income falls in a finite set of values. When they differ, there is a range of incomes where gambles are desired. Different borrowing and lending rates can account for persistent gambling provided the rates span the rate of time preference. (JEL D81, D91)

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Article provided by American Economic Association in its journal American Economic Review.

Volume (Year): 92 (2002)
Issue (Month): 3 (June)
Pages: 613-624

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Handle: RePEc:aea:aecrev:v:92:y:2002:i:3:p:613-624
Note: DOI: 10.1257/00028280260136426
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  1. Bruno Jullien & Bernard Salanie, 2000. "Estimating Preferences under Risk: The Case of Racetrack Bettors," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 108(3), pages 503-530, June.
  2. repec:oup:qjecon:v:87:y:1973:i:1:p:148-56 is not listed on IDEAS
  3. Quiggin, John, 1991. "On the Optimal Design of Lotteries," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 58(229), pages 1-16, February.
  4. Ng Yew Kwang, 1965. "Why do People Buy Lottery Tickets? Choices Involving Risk and the Indivisibility of Expenditure," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 73, pages 530.
  5. Milton Friedman & L. J. Savage, 1948. "The Utility Analysis of Choices Involving Risk," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 56, pages 279.
  6. Becker, Gary S & Murphy, Kevin M, 1988. "A Theory of Rational Addiction," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 96(4), pages 675-700, August.
  7. Farrell, Lisa & Morgenroth, Edgar & Walker, Ian, 1999. " A Time Series Analysis of U.K. Lottery Sales: Long and Short Run Price Elasticities," Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics, Department of Economics, University of Oxford, vol. 61(4), pages 513-26, November.
  8. Dowell, Richard S & McLaren, Keith R, 1986. "An Intertemporal Analysis of the Interdependence between Risk Preference, Retirement, and Work Rate Decisions," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 94(3), pages 667-82, June.
  9. Machina, Mark J, 1989. "Dynamic Consistency and Non-expected Utility Models of Choice under Uncertainty," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 27(4), pages 1622-68, December.
  10. Conlisk, John, 1993. " The Utility of Gambling," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 6(3), pages 255-75, June.
  11. Dobbs, Ian M, 1988. "Risk Aversion, Gambling and the Labour-Leisure Choice," Scottish Journal of Political Economy, Scottish Economic Society, vol. 35(2), pages 171-75, May.
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