The Hidden Cost of Winning the Lottery

For some, the lottery offers a chance to fantasize about winning a fortune for just a few bucks. But for many—especially those with the lowest incomes—it can be a major budget drain. Critics call it a hidden tax on the economically disadvantaged, who need to stick to their budgets and trim unnecessary spending.

Lottery tickets often offer prizes besides money, including merchandise, vehicles and trips. Some even feature popular celebrities and sports franchises as merchandising partners. These promotions bring in extra revenue for the lottery and help increase awareness. In the United States, lottery revenue tops $25 billion a year. After paying out prize money and covering operating and advertising costs, state lottery commissions keep the rest.

In a typical game, players choose a set of numbers and are awarded prizes based on how many of them match a second set chosen in a random drawing. Players can win major prizes for matching all six of their numbers, and smaller ones for matching three, four or five.

Although there is always a possibility someone will win the jackpot, the odds of winning aren’t increased by playing more frequently or by betting larger amounts. The rules of probability dictate that each individual drawing has independent probability that’s not affected by the number of other tickets sold or the frequency of play. It is, however, possible to improve your chances of winning by choosing a combination of numbers with less repetition and using the method that Harvard statistics professor Mark Glickman recommends: picking significant dates or numbers that end in the same digits.