How to Win the Lottery


A lottery is a game in which prizes, typically cash or goods, are awarded by drawing lots. It is a form of gambling and the rules vary by culture, but all lotteries have at least four things in common. They must have a prize pool, a method for recording the identities of bettors, a way to determine the winner, and a means of distributing the winnings. The cost of organizing and promoting the lottery must be deducted from the prize pool, and a percentage normally goes as revenues and profits to sponsors or governments. The remainder is available for winners, and the odds of winning are proportional to the prize pool size.

Early America, famously tax averse, turned to lotteries for revenue because they were cheap and easy to administer. Harvard, Yale, and Princeton were all financed partly by them, as was the Continental Congress’s attempt to fund the Revolutionary War. But they were also tangled up with the slave trade, and, as Cohen points out, George Washington managed a lottery whose prizes included human beings.

The prevailing wisdom about lottery playing, from those who have never won to those who have, is that you must buy many tickets to increase your chances. But this is not only untrue but misleading. Instead, learn combinatorial math and probability theory. Study how the different numbers in a given lottery pool behave over time. Learn how to spot a dominant group and avoid the improbable ones.