How to Win the Lottery


Throughout history, lotteries have been popular ways to give away property and slaves. They became common in colonial America, where they were used to finance roads, churches, canals, and even wars. They also entangled with slavery in unpredictable ways: George Washington managed a lottery whose prizes included human beings, and one enslaved man bought his freedom from a lottery prize and went on to foment a slave rebellion.

Despite these moral concerns, many Americans approved of state-run gambling. They believed that if people were going to gamble anyway, the government might as well take its cut. And this logic made a lot of sense for politicians: Cohen writes that, in a nation defined politically by its aversion to taxes, a lottery “promised to deliver hundreds of millions of dollars without raising any.”

But while the risk-to-reward ratio of buying a lottery ticket is low, it’s important to remember that purchasing tickets is an enormously expensive habit, and that, as a group, lottery players contribute billions to government receipts that could have been saved for retirement or college tuition. Furthermore, lottery players tend to spend money on combinations with poor success-to-failure ratios. This is especially true when they buy quick picks and other pre-determined combinations, which are typically less likely to win than the dominant groups. If you want to improve your odds of winning, you should avoid these improbable combinations and focus on choosing a dominant template that is likely to perform better over time.