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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 rules out a demand for gambles, we show that expected utility theory with non-concave utility functions can still explain gambling. When the rates of interest and time preference are equal, agents will seek to gamble unless income falls in a finite set of exceptional values. When these rates differ, there will be a range of incomes for which gambles are desired. In both cases repeated gambling is not explained but market imperfections such as different borrowing and lending rates can account for persistent gambling provided the rates span the rate of time preference.

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File URL: http://www.keele.ac.uk/depts/ec/wpapers/9802.pdf
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Paper provided by Department of Economics, Keele University in its series Keele Department of Economics Discussion Papers (1995-2001) with number 98/02.

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Date of creation: 1998
Date of revision:
Publication status: Published in American Economic Review, June 2002, Vol. 92(3), pages 613-624.
Handle: RePEc:kee:keeldp:98/02
Contact details of provider: Postal: Department of Economics, University of Keele, Keele, Staffordshire, ST5 5BG - United Kingdom
Phone: +44 (0)1782 584581
Fax: +44 (0)1782 717577
Web page: http://www.keele.ac.uk/depts/ec/cer/Email:


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Order Information: Postal: Department of Economics, Keele University, Keele, Staffordshire ST5 5BG - United Kingdom
Web: http://www.keele.ac.uk/depts/ec/cer/pubs_kerps.htm Email:


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  1. Gary S. Becker & Kevin M. Murphy, 1986. "A Theory of Rational Addiction," University of Chicago - George G. Stigler Center for Study of Economy and State 41, Chicago - Center for Study of Economy and State.
  2. 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.
  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. Kim, Young Chin, 1973. "Choice in the Lottery-Insurance Situation Augmented-Income Approach," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 87(1), pages 148-56, February.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Conlisk, John, 1993. " The Utility of Gambling," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 6(3), pages 255-75, June.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  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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