How to Win a Lottery

As lotteries have sprung up in the United States, the question of how they should be conducted has arisen. The answer has remained the same in every case: The state legislature legislates a monopoly for itself; establishes an agency or public corporation to run it; starts with modest offerings of relatively simple games; and then, under pressure from a relentless drive to increase revenues, progressively expands the lottery’s scope.

In the immediate post-World War II period, that arrangement worked fairly well for states that wanted to expand their array of services without burdening working-class taxpayers too much. But as inflation and the cost of the Vietnam War accelerated, and the economic foundation for state governments began to crumble, it became clear that the old arrangement could not continue. Lotteries were adopted as a way for states to raise money to support their growing array of social programs.

Whether the money is spent on a big ticket item like a sports team or a luxury home, lottery revenues provide a steady stream of cash for state government that they would otherwise have to tax. And that, more than anything else, is the reason why so many people play.

The odds of winning a prize in a lottery depend on what numbers you pick and how many tickets you buy. Harvard statistics professor Mark Glickman says that if you pick numbers close together, such as birthdays or sequences that hundreds of other people have picked (e.g., 1-2-3-4-5-6), you will have to share the prize with other players. He suggests selecting random numbers or buying Quick Picks instead.