Why do the poor spend more on lottery tickets than their wealthier and better educated peers? While social scientists generally agree that there is an inverse relationship between socioeconomic position and patterns of lottery play, there is debate on what factors cause lottery gambling. Using survey data from a nationwide probability sample, we test three sociological approaches-socio-structural, cultural and social network accounts-to explain why the poor play the lottery. While controlling for cognitive bias theory, we find that peer play, educational attainment and self-perceived social deprivation have strong effects on lottery play. Culture, the study finds, plays a much lesser role. Although lottery players demonstrate fatalistic value orientations, it is not a lack of a 'Protestant' work ethic that makes the poor spend proportionally more on lottery tickets. The findings of this study generally point to the importance of social structures in explaining lottery gambling.