The Odds of Winning a Lottery


The casting of lots for making decisions and determining fates has a long history (see also arithmetic, factorial). Modern lotteries are government-sponsored gambling games with prizes of money. The first public lotteries were held in the Low Countries in the 15th century, to raise money for town walls and fortifications, as well as helping the poor.

Modern lotteries are generally considered to be a legitimate form of taxation. The resulting revenues support a variety of social and cultural activities, and many states rely on lotteries to supplement their general revenue. However, critics of lotteries argue that they tend to erode the integrity and morality of the state and can promote compulsive behavior, regressive effects on lower-income groups, and other social problems.

Often, the biggest winners are able to pool their resources and buy tickets for all possible combinations. Romanian-born mathematician Stefan Mandel, for example, once won a lottery jackpot of more than $1.3 million by getting 2,580 investors to contribute. But the reality is that the odds of winning are quite low. According to Dave Gulley, an economics professor at Bentley University in Waltham, Mass., the chances of winning a large prize in a lottery are approximately one in 14 million. He says that the odds are even higher for smaller prizes. To increase your chances, he suggests diversifying your number choices and staying away from numbers that are close together or that end in similar digits. Also, try playing less popular lottery games that have fewer people playing.