The Odds of Winning the Lottery Are Very Low

Since 1964, when New Hampshire pioneered modern state lotteries, gambling has exploded and jackpots have grown to record levels. In an anti-tax era, governments at any level become dependent on lottery revenues as a source of “painless” money and there are pressures to increase the amounts of prizes. This puts governments in a difficult position because the public is essentially being taxed without their consent. The principal argument used to promote the lottery is that people voluntarily spend their own money in exchange for the chance of winning a large sum of cash. It is a tempting gambit, but it’s important to understand that the odds of winning are very low.

The casting of lots for decisions and the distribution of property is ancient in origin, with several examples from biblical times and also ancient Roman emperors, who used a lottery-like activity called apophoreta (literally “that which is carried home”) during Saturnalian dinner parties. Lotteries were held to distribute slaves and slave properties in the Americas during the Revolutionary War, and private lotteries were common as a way to sell products and real estate for more money than could be raised from regular sales.

Richard Lustig, author of How to Win the Lottery, suggests that the best strategy is to buy a larger number of tickets, and he also advises players to choose random numbers that don’t appear close together—others are less likely to pick those combinations. However, he warns that purchasing more tickets will also increase your expenses and your investment, so don’t go into debt to buy lots of tickets.