The Odds of Winning the Lottery Are Long

In 2021, American lottery players spent upwards of $100 billion on tickets, making it the most popular form of gambling in the country. Many states promote these games as ways to raise revenue without socking people with a large tax increase. But that messaging obscures just how regressive lottery spending actually is.

I’ve spoken to lotto players who have been at it for years, buying tickets $50 or $100 a week. Despite the fact that they’re clearly irrational and spend a huge amount of their income on these tickets, these dedicated gamblers are clear-eyed about the odds of winning. They’ve tried all the quote-unquote “systems” — the ones that aren’t borne out by statistical reasoning about lucky numbers or lucky stores or times of day to buy tickets — and have come to the conclusion that, for better or worse, their odds are long.

The best advice I can offer for anyone thinking about trying to win the lottery is to play it responsibly and keep it in perspective. It’s a fun way to pass the time, but it’s important not to let the excitement of winning get in the way of your savings or investment goals. And don’t flaunt your newfound wealth; that’s one of the biggest mistakes lottery winners make and could even land them in legal trouble.

But if you are going to play, I recommend researching the odds for the specific lottery you’re interested in. Look at past winnings and consider the expected value, which is a good measure of how much money you might expect to win if you have a high chance of winning.