The lottery is a popular form of gambling that raises billions for state coffers. But that’s not the only reason people buy tickets. They’re also essentially investing their money in hopes of winning something they desperately want, like kindergarten admission for their children or the top spot in a subsidized housing block or a lifesaving drug.
The odds of winning the lottery are astronomically low, yet people continue to spend millions on tickets every week. Lottery players are disproportionately lower-income, less educated, and nonwhite. They’re also a bit more likely to be addicted to gambling, and they tend to spend more than average.
I’ve talked to lots of lottery players, including those who have played for years and spend $50 or $100 a week. They’re not irrational. They go into the games clear-eyed about how much they’re going to lose. They know the odds are long, and they have quote-unquote systems for selecting numbers based on lucky stores or times of day and whether or not they should play a scratch ticket.
When choosing your numbers, try to avoid a predictable sequence or significant dates. Harvard statistics professor Mark Glickman explains that if you choose your lottery numbers based on birthdays or other meaningful dates, the number is more likely to be picked by others as well, which means you’ll have to split the prize with them if you win. Instead, select random numbers or purchase Quick Picks to increase your odds of avoiding shared prizes.