The Odds of Winning the Lottery Are Long


The lottery is a big business with a lot of money on the line. But it is also, for some people, a last, best, or only chance at a new life. And for these folks, the odds are long. Regardless of the fact that they are completely aware that they’re gambling with the house, they still feel that their chances of winning are pretty good.

This irrational sense of luck is what the lottery draws on, and it works in their favor. It combines with an unspoken meritocratic belief that we’re all going to get rich someday, and it makes the lottery seem like a really great deal, even though it isn’t.

Lottery commissions have shifted away from this message, in part because it obscures the regressiveness of the lottery and in part because it’s coded as a game that you can take lightly, even though for many players it takes a large share of their incomes.

A little research can help you make smarter lottery choices. For example, before you buy a scratch-off ticket look at the numbering on the outside and chart how often those numbers repeat. You’re looking for “singletons,” or numbers that appear only once, which tend to signal a winning card 60-90% of the time. You can also check online to see how long a specific game has been running and what prizes remain unclaimed. This information can help you decide whether the odds are worth the investment.