The Odds of Winning a Lottery Prize Are the Same As They Were Ten Years Ago


The lottery is a form of gambling in which numbers are drawn to determine the winners of prizes. State governments control the lottery and decide what games to offer, as well as how much money to award in prizes. Many states use some portion of lottery proceeds to fund education, while others put most of it into the general fund to address budget shortfalls or pay for roadwork and other infrastructure. In addition to these state-specific uses, lottery proceeds have also gone towards addiction treatment and other support services.

Lottery games are designed to appeal to the human desire to dream big. But even though eye-popping jackpots are commonplace now, the odds of winning are the same as they were 10 years ago. People have a hard time grasping the magnitude of these odds. “Humans have a basic misunderstanding about how likely things are,” says Victor Matheson, an economics professor at the College of the Holy Cross.

Most lottery players follow a system of picking their numbers that they believe increases their chances of winning. For example, they might select numbers based on significant dates, like birthdays and anniversaries, over random sequences such as 1-2-3-4-5-6. But choosing numbers that are already in play by hundreds of other players reduces your chance of winning, Glickman says.

But even if you are a master of number selection, the odds of winning remain low. And in some cases, the monetary value of a lottery prize is outweighed by the negative utility of its associated risk. For instance, Abraham Shakespeare killed himself after winning a $31 million jackpot in 2006, and Jeffrey Dampier was kidnapped and murdered after winning a $20 million prize in 2010.