Maximize Your Odds of Winning the Lottery


A lottery is a random drawing that results in one or more winners. It can be used to award anything from units in a subsidized housing block to kindergarten placements at a reputable public school. Financial lotteries are often run by governments. But they also can be played by individuals who pay a small price in order to win a much larger sum of money, sometimes millions of dollars.

In a recent episode of This American Life, I talked to people who have been playing the lottery for years, often $50 or $100 a week. I expected to learn that they were irrational and had been duped by the odds, but instead, these people defied all of my assumptions. They were clear-eyed about the odds and knew that they had a long shot at winning, but they also saw value in their tickets.

I’ve listened to similar conversations with other lottery players, and they all share the same message: They know that their chances of winning are slim, but they still play because they enjoy the tease of hope. It’s a form of self-soothing, and it works. The reality is that no computer program can predict the next winning numbers. No fortune teller or psychic guy next door can help. The only way to maximize your odds of winning is by using a mathematical strategy based on probability.