The Odds of Winning the Lottery

Lottery is one of those games that everybody knows you are not supposed to play, but many people do. And there is a weird underbelly to it: it feels like you are betting on your last hope, the most improbable way up. I’ve talked to a lot of lottery players, people who have been playing for years, $50 or $100 a week. They have all sorts of quote-unquote systems — irrational ones, in fact — about lucky numbers and stores and times of day to buy tickets, but they know their odds are long. And they have come to this logical conclusion that for better or worse, the lottery may be their only chance at a new life.

While it’s not the only factor, super-sized jackpots tend to drive sales, and they also earn a windfall of free publicity on news sites and broadcasts. But the odds of winning the top prize remain terrible.

There are a few ways you might improve your chances, but none are likely to do much more than increase your cost of play. Clotfelter says that most players stick to their “lucky” numbers, which are often personal and based on dates of significant events. But that will only reduce your chances of picking a number higher than 31.

There are plenty of people who promise a surefire way to win the lottery, but they’re likely just trying to get your money. In fact, there is only one way to guarantee a winning ticket: purchase enough tickets to cover all possible combinations. That’s the system Romanian-born mathematician Stefan Mandel used to win 14 times.