Whether you’ve ever bought a lottery ticket or not, there is no denying that it’s a big gamble. It’s also an exercise in hope. Even though you know you’re unlikely to win, you can’t help but hold out that sliver of a hope that you just might be the one.
Lotteries are a major source of state revenue. But they rely on two messages to get people to play. One is that playing is fun, a great way to scratch that itch. The other is that you should feel good about yourself because you’re helping the state or children or something by buying a ticket. This message obscures how regressive the games are and distracts from their real cost to states.
Some of the most popular lottery games are also the most regressive. Scratch-offs account for about 65 percent of all lottery sales and tend to be played by poorer people. Lotto games are less regressive but still don’t attract many middle-class players. People who play lotto games buy more tickets than they would for a scratch-off, which increases their odds of winning but reduces the size of their payouts. This is known as a “syndicate,” and it’s a common strategy for reducing the likelihood of losing while increasing the size of your winnings.
Some people try to increase their odds by selecting numbers that represent significant dates or sequences such as birthdays or ages. But these strategies can backfire. Numbers that are more commonly chosen by other players can actually have a lower chance of being picked, according to Harvard statistics professor Mark Glickman, who runs a website on lottery literacy.