Do a little lottery math and you'll find the odds on lotto games are the worst odds you'll find anywhere for any type of gambling. In fact, if the state lotteries weren't being run by the state, they would be legal. If you don't believe me, look at the payback percentage on your state lottery sometime. Then look at the laws on the minimum payouts any casino game can pay out in that same state. You'll find that the lottery is likely to pay out around 50% to 60% of every dollar that is paid to buy lottery tickets, while the casinos are required to set payback odds at 80% or more.
Bad Proposition Bets
Lotteries have such a bad reputation among statisticians and gambling experts, a number of famous sayings and quotations about bad lottery odds exist. You'll hear people say the lottery is a "tax on people who can't count", a "tax on fools", or simply another form of taxation. The fact that states use lotto games and scratch-offs to collect revenue should tell you how much you're paying in over the course of your lifetime. People tend to convince themselves they've just about broken even on the lottery, but the numbers show that isn't the case. Lottery gaming interests in the United States collected $17.9 billion in profits in 2010.
Why People Play the Lottery
Don't get me wrong: I've bought a lottery ticket before. The allure you're going to be that lucky person who walks off with a hundred-million dollars is a happy thought. You'll walk out of the story thinking, "Imagine if I won the lottery...I'm going to do everything I always wanted to do. I'll pay off all my debts. I'll quit my job. I'll travel the world, buy my wife/Mom/Sis that mansion she always wanted." So I understand the thought process behind buying a lottery ticket.
Heck, I even understand a person buying one lottery ticket per drawing. Even if your odds were one-in-a-billion, that represents a vast jump in your odds from none-in-a-billion chances. But understand that if you bought one ticket in the bi-weekly drawings for the next 30,000 years, you still might expect to win once. I've seen numbers that suggest it's would take about 425,000 years to get to break-even on even one lottery jackpot win. People think their odds go up steeply if they buy multiple tickets for one drawing, but they don't. Buying a second ticket hardly increases your chances at all, not when consider you would have to play the lottery tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of years to have a 50:50 chance of winning once.
So if you buy lottery tickets, buy one to get into the game. Those who find the lottery exciting because it lets them dream of another life for a few minutes should buy one ticket per drawing for the sake of entertainment. But you shouldn't try to figure out lottery systems or which lottery numbers are most likely to come up. It's a fool's game to put time and effort into figuring out a solution to a problem with no solution. The fact is: the lottery has awful odds and nothing you do is going to change those odds. Spend $2 a week on the state lottery the way you would spend $2 on soft drinks or candy bars. It brings you a little pleasure and pangs of regret later. Don't let the lottery become a state tax for you.
Mega Million Odds - Powerball Math
Let's look at things another way. Over the course of the time you've been playing the lottery and studying about ways to beat the lottery, you're odds of winning haven't gone up. They've gotten much, much worse. Below is a breakdown of the odds of hitting America's biggest multi-state lotteries: the Powerball Lottery and the Mega Millions Lottery.
Rising Powerball Odds over the Years - 1 in 54,979,154 (1992) - 1 in 80,089,127 (1997) - 1 in 120,536,770 (2002) - 1 in 146,107,962 (2005) - 1 in 195,249,053 (2009)
Rising Mega Millions Odds - 1 in 52,969,000 (1996) - 1 in 76,275,360 (1999) - 1 in 135,145,920 (2002) - 1 in 175,711,536 (2005-present)
Lottery Calculations - Multi-State Lottos
If you're playing either the Powerball or the Megamillions lottery in 2012, your odds are more than three times worse than they were for a lotto player back in 1992 or 1996. The inclusion of multipliers and the consolidation of big lottery games into multi-state associations means you have more people playing and bigger jackpots, but your odds of winning have gone from the astronomical to the infinitesimal.
Scratch-Off Lotto Odds
Everybody knows they have little chance to win the lotteries with the huge jackpots, though. A more subtle and therefore more insidious lotto game is the scratch-off tickets. These are the games you'll see people selecting at the counter of your local convenience store all the time. They puzzle over whether to get 2 of the red scratch-off ticket and 3 of the blue one, or whether it would be a better play to buy 3 of the red scratch-offs and 2 of the blue scratch-off games.
Whatever the case, they end up buying a stack of tickets. This gives them a better chance to hit on a winning tickets, but the money spent to get the rush of the win more than offsets whatever payouts they get. Do some research on these tickets and you'll see that, in some games, only 1 in a 100 tickets pay out more than the basic minimum amount. But even if you get the rare $50 payout, if you routinely spend $45 on tickets and it takes several trips to the store to get that fifty buck victory, you're still taking a bath on the scratchoffs. The lottery math just doesn't work out.
Chances of Winning the Lottery
I've heard people defend their lotto spending by saying their playing lottery is no different than playing the stock market. I can see, in this economic climate, why you might think so. But when you look at a graph of the stock market's ebb and flow, the stock market has a steady upward trend over the years and decades. That is, a lot of people put their money behind the wrong investment and lose their fortunes. You'll find a lot of losers on Wall Street. But the odds are gently in the favor of the stock investor over the course of their lifetime, while the lottery odds are steeply against you over the course of your lotto gambling career. Do the math and you'll realize you're playing a game that's rigged to take your money. If anyone but your state government did that to you, you'd bring the law in on your side.
Can I Pick the Same Lottery Number as Another Person?
I had a person ask me the other day, "Can I pick the same lottery number as another person?"
The answer is, "Yes, you can pick the same lottery number as another person."
If you DO pick the same lottery number as another person, and your number comes up, then you'll split the winnings with that person.
It happens pretty often, in fact.
Can Two People Have the Same Quick Pick Numbers?
I was also asked, "Can two people have the same quick pick numbers?"
The same answer applies. Yes, two people can have the same quick pick numbers. As far as I know, quick pick machines don't eliminate a potential set of numbers once it's assigned them to someone.
If I'm mistaken about this, please contact me and let me know, but I'm pretty sure that two people getting the same quick pick numbers is pretty common.
The Lottery and How to Beat It
Someone found my site doing a search for the phrase "the lottery and how to beat it." I do actually have a surefire method for beating the lottery, and I'm going to share it with you below.
Don't play the lottery.
That's the only surefire way to beat the lottery, and it will work perfectly if you follow this strategy 100% of the time.
If you don't play, you can't lose.
The other way to beat the lottery? Write your legislators and tell them that you don't think the government should be funding, managing, or operating a gambling business of any kind. (And make no mistake, that's exactly what the lottery is.)
Want to beat the lottery? End it.
If enough voters tell the government to find a way to pay for its own operations without taxing people who can't do basic math, government will stop.
Think about this too. If the government has an incentive for people to play the lottery, then the government has a dis-incentive to educate people about basic math.
Do we really want a government that has a financial incentive to maintain people's ignorance? Especially when the government controls and manages the educational system in this country?