The Darker Side of Lottery


Lottery is a form of gambling where numbers are drawn to determine a prize. It is an ancient practice, dating back to the Roman Empire, when lotteries were used to determine everything from who would be emperor to who got Jesus’ garments after his Crucifixion. More recently, lotteries have been popular as a way to raise money for public works projects and charitable causes. Regardless of the purpose, the games are often advertised as harmless entertainment and fun for everyone. However, there is a darker underbelly to this form of gambling. Lottery is not just addictive, but it also contributes to poverty by causing poor people to spend a large proportion of their incomes on tickets that will never give them a big prize.

Lotteries are marketed as benign because they have no direct connection to taxes and do not require any knowledge of mathematics or statistics. In fact, a lottery ticket can be bought at almost any place that sells Snickers bars and is sold as an impulse buy with the same psychological effects as those products. Its marketing is aimed at young adults who haven’t learned to control their spending habits and are willing to buy into the illusion that winning the lottery will make them rich. But this is just another version of the old adage that once you have tasted money, you will want more. This is why many lottery winners go broke shortly after winning.

Despite these warnings, state lottery commissions are not above availing themselves of the psychology of addiction. They use a variety of tactics, including glitzy advertising campaigns, to keep players hooked. These techniques are not that different from those used by tobacco companies and video game manufacturers.

A major message that lottery marketers rely on is that even if you lose, you should feel good because you are doing your civic duty to help the state or children or whatever. This message obscures the regressivity of the lottery and allows states to get away with taking advantage of people who can’t afford not to gamble.

Fortunately, there are strategies that can increase your chances of winning. Harvard statistics professor Mark Glickman recommends that you look at the outside of a lottery ticket and find digits that appear more than once, but do not repeat with other numbers (i.e., singletons). You can also chart the numbers on a separate sheet of paper and look for patterns that suggest which ones are more likely to win. Another strategy is to pick numbers that are important to you such as your birthday, a significant date, or the ages of your children. This will reduce the chance that other people will have the same numbers and thus split the prize with you. It is also a good idea to play Quick Picks, which are a more random group of numbers. This will increase your odds of winning by about 2%. This is not a huge percentage, but it could be enough to improve your life significantly.