How to Beat the Odds at the Lottery


Lottery is an activity where a group of people or individuals are chosen by random selection to obtain something that’s limited and in high demand, such as units in a subsidized housing block or kindergarten placements at a reputable public school. Two of the most popular types of lottery are those that occur in sports and those that dish out big cash prizes to paying participants, called players.

Lotteries can be a fun way to pass the time or raise money for charitable causes, such as funding for schools, roads and other infrastructure projects. They also can be used as a form of gambling. But some people get so addicted to lottery playing that they spend large amounts of their income on tickets and risk losing it all. I’ve spoken to a number of these committed lottery players, and the thing that’s so interesting about them is that they really do believe that there are strategies to beat the odds.

To improve your chances of winning, you can learn how to choose the right numbers by studying statistics and looking for patterns. Some people choose numbers that correspond to significant dates, such as birthdays or anniversaries. Others use a software program to help them select the right numbers. While these techniques may be helpful, they’re not foolproof. The best strategy is to buy more tickets, but the odds of winning a prize for matching five out of six numbers are still pretty low, even with a high jackpot.

In addition to the numbers, it’s important to look for a pattern of “singletons.” Singletons are digits that appear only once on a ticket. They indicate a winning ticket 60-90% of the time. To do this, draw a mock-up of a lottery ticket on a sheet of paper and then chart the numbers that repeat and those that don’t. Then, mark each space where you find a singleton.

It’s no surprise that lottery players are disproportionately lower-income and less educated, since they’re the only ones who can afford to play. But the real issue is that lottery commissions are dangling the prospect of instant riches in an era of rising inequality and restricted social mobility. And they’re able to do that by making the game seem fun, and by emphasizing that it’s not really a gamble.

The problem with this is that it obscures the regressivity of the lottery and makes people think they’re smarter than the people who are buying those lottery tickets. There’s a lot more to the story than that, of course, but if you’re thinking about playing the lottery, make sure you consider how much money you’d have to spend before deciding whether it’s worth it. Khristopher J. Brooks is a CBS MoneyWatch reporter covering business, consumer and financial stories that range from economic inequality and housing issues to bankruptcies and the business of professional sports. She’s based in San Francisco.