The Dangers of Lottery Gambling


The lottery is a gamble with a grand prize of millions of dollars that has become a cultural icon, from the ubiquitous billboards to the gleaming megamillions and billions posted in ads on TV and the Internet. It’s an enduring part of our society, and it serves a purpose: to give people hope that they could, someday, pull off the impossible.

It also helps to fund state government operations that might otherwise have trouble. Lottery players contribute billions to state receipts, which can offset taxes and foregone savings on things like retirement or tuition. But it’s easy to forget how dangerous a habit it can become, especially when the odds of winning are so small and the jackpot is so high.

As a rule, the prizes in a lottery are awarded to winners through a process that relies wholly on chance. That’s true even if there are multiple stages to the competition, and even if some of those stages involve skill.

When it comes to picking numbers, Harvard statistics professor Mark Glickman recommends going with random ones rather than personal numbers (birthdates, ages, or sequences like 1-2-3-4-5-6). He points out that when you pick a number yourself, there’s a greater likelihood of other people choosing the same one, which will decrease your share of the prize. The same goes for picking “significant” dates like birthdays and anniversaries, or choosing numbers that appear frequently in the news, such as months and years.