How to Win the Lottery


A lottery is an arrangement in which prizes are allocated by a process that relies wholly on chance. It cannot reasonably be expected to prevent a significant proportion of people who wish to participate in the arrangement from doing so. Nevertheless, it can be expected to discourage some of them. In order to protect against such a risk, the Government must ensure that the lottery is conducted fairly.

The casting of lots for decisions and fates has a long history (including several cases in the Bible), but the use of lotteries for material gain is of more recent origin, at least as far as we know. The first recorded public lottery took place in 1466, in Bruges, Belgium, to raise money for town repairs. But it was in the nineteen-sixties that the lottery became an indelible part of American life.

This came when the growth of awareness about all the money to be made in gambling collided with a crisis in state funding. As America’s population exploded and inflation soared during the nineteen-sixties, states found it hard to balance their budgets without raising taxes or cutting services. These choices were deeply unpopular with voters.

So a growing number of states began to legalize and run state-sponsored lotteries. In the 1970s, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oregon, South Dakota, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin joined the ranks, while twelve more state lotteries were established during the 1990s.

In addition to the aforementioned states, the District of Columbia also runs a lottery. Despite this, lottery sales have been falling throughout the country, with eight states reporting declining numbers in 2003 compared to 2002 (see the table below).

Whether it is the Powerball or one of the many smaller state-sponsored lotteries, winning a prize requires more than luck; you have to know how to play the game. The best way to do this is to look for groups of numbers that appear together, such as three in a row or a column of four. Statistically, these combinations are more likely to be winners.

It is important to note that rich people do play the lottery, as evidenced by the fact that one of the largest-ever jackpots, a quarter of a billion dollars, was won by three investment managers from Greenwich, Connecticut. But they buy fewer tickets than the poor, and their purchases represent a much lower percentage of their income. The average American making more than fifty thousand dollars per year spends one percent of his or her income on lottery tickets; the figure for those making less than thirty thousand is thirteen percent.

The ongoing evolution of state lotteries is a classic example of the way in which public policy is made. Decisions are made piecemeal and incrementally, with no overall overview; authority is divided among different branches of the government, and, in the case of lotteries, between legislatures, the executive branch, and gaming authorities, with the general public welfare taking a back seat.