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How to Win the Lottery, Really – A Winning Strategy to Come Out on Top

By David Quilty

lottery ticketBelieve it or not, to “win” the lottery, the best strategy really is to not play at all. But before you hit the back button, hear me out.

Winning the lottery, while a tempting dream of the get rich quick sect, is not a legitimate way to get rich. In fact, it’s really no different than gambling away your money in a casino, where the house almost always wins. With only a handful of winners versus millions and millions of losers, the lottery is a sucker’s game. If you want to be rich and have plenty of money in the bank in order to live the good life, don’t look to the lottery to make it happen!

Here’s more on why you shouldn’t play.

Playing and “Winning” the Lottery

How the Powerball Lottery Works

This article focuses on the Powerball lottery, the largest lottery in the United States. Available in 42 states, Washington D.C., and the U.S. Virgin Islands, Powerball always has a jackpot of at least $20 million and has drawings twice a week. It is made up of five sets of 59 numerical white balls and one set of 39 red “Powerballs,” which make up the winning number combinations for each drawing.

Players can either choose their own six numbers (five regular and one Powerball) or have the computer terminals randomly pick numbers for them. If every number on your ticket matches the winning numbers in the order they are drawn, you win the jackpot prize. There are also smaller prizes if you only have some of the correct numbers. Each ticket costs the player $1.

The Powerball lottery holds the record for the largest lottery jackpot ever; in 2006, $365 million was awarded to eight people sharing one ticket.

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Odds of Winning

What are the odds of buying a jackpot-winning lottery ticket? Well, that’s where the math gets scary. The odds of someone choosing the winning combination of numbers are 1 in 195,249,054. Yes, you read that right – just 1 in almost 200 million. To put that in some numerical perspective, the United States currently has a population of 307 million people, so you’re theoretically competing against 2/3 of the entire U.S. population. Those are serious odds stacked against you every time you spend $1 for a lottery ticket!

The odds for winning a smaller amount of money, like $10,000, for only getting a portion of the numbers correct, are also unfavorable: 1 in 723,144.64. Ouch.

Buying lottery tickets is not an efficient way to increase your personal wealth. For those of you who still think you can beat the odds, there actually is a strategy. The single surefire way to win money from playing the Powerball lottery is to buy 39 tickets, each one hand-picked to contain one of the unique Powerball numbers between 1 and 39. You are then guaranteed to at least win the $3 prize. Sure, it may have cost you $39, but this is one way to “win” the lottery.

In 2008, there were 1.03 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled in the United States. Based on these odds, a lottery player living a single mile from a store selling lottery tickets is four times more likely to die in a car accident driving to the store than to win the Powerball jackpot. Winning doesn’t seem too likely now, does it? Keep those odds in mind the next time you drive to the store to buy lottery tickets!

fortune cookie lottery

The True Cost of Playing the Lottery

Learning more about the odds of winning a big jackpot may not be enough to discourage you from buying daily or weekly lottery tickets. Perhaps talking about the true financial cost of those tickets will help dissuade you from buying tickets. Most people do not like wasting money, but many will spend a small fortune on lottery tickets in their lifetimes, which is unlikely to ever pay off.

Lotteries have often been called a “tax on the poor,” and for good reason. The majority of lottery ticket buyers are in the lower income tax brackets. Often less educated about finances and less likely to save money for retirement, these lottery players don’t view the expense of a few lottery tickets as a major cash outlay. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. In the long run, spending money on tickets that never win costs players more than just the face value of the tickets and prevents many people from ever getting out of debt.

To illustrate this point, let’s say an average lottery player spends $5 per week on Powerball tickets. That’s $20 each month or $240 spent on lottery tickets every year. This person buys lottery tickets every month of every year for 25 years, as my grandfather did throughout his adult life. The amount spent on lottery tickets over a lifetime is $6,000, which surely could have been put to better use. Instead, that $6,000 disappeared, and never won any jackpot big enough to cover the player’s expenses.

Now, what if that $20 had instead been socked away every month into an interest-bearing savings account, CD, or retirement investment, paying a conservative average of 5% per year? How much would that player have earned at the end of the 25-year period?

$12,027.23. That’s how much.

By depositing that $20 every month into an account earning just 5%, a lottery player could double his or her money in 25 years. Putting that money towards retirement, debt, or furthering your career with an education are all better ways to use your money, and with much better returns.

Winners Become Losers

With all this talk about the odds against winning and how much money is wasted on lottery tickets, one may forget that people do win the jackpot once in a great while. Every now and then, we read about someone who won a huge jackpot of a few hundred million dollars and how he or she is planning on retiring, buying a new car, or giving a percentage to a favorite charity.

But we rarely hear about what actually happens to these people. Do they live rich, successful lives? Remember, most lottery players have very little financial education or experience handling money. Here are a few examples of those who won major jackpots, only to lose it all:

michael carroll lottery

  • Michael Carroll from the UK won a $15.4 million National Lottery jackpot in 2002, only to find himself unemployed and broke a few years later. He lost all the money on expensive gifts, drugs, prostitutes, and cars.
  • Evelyn Adams won the New Jersey lottery twice (1985 and 1986) for a total of $5.4 million, but lost every penny gambling it away in Atlantic City casinos. She currently lives in a trailer park.
  • Jay Sommers won one-fifth of a $28.9 million jackpot in Michigan and proceeded to spend the first annual check of $290,000 to buy five automobiles. After that, he hired a shady financial advisor (his friend), who swindled him out of the rest of his winnings. Sommers lost all of his winnings and resorted to delivering pizzas.

Final Word

Still not deterred from buying a few lottery tickets? You aren’t alone. Millions of people buy lottery tickets every week and don’t expect to win anything back; it’s just a game to them. Heck, I even buy a lottery ticket once in a while, just for kicks. But I never expect to actually win the jackpot, and I would never spend money I don’t have to try to beat such grand odds.

Buying lottery tickets for fun once in a while won’t break the bank. Playing with money you don’t have, or that you will need later on, however, is a recipe for disaster. For those who decide to play responsibly, the good news is that a portion of the money that goes towards state lotteries is used for education and children’s programs. The only responsible way to play the lottery is to do so occasionally for fun, without any expectation of winning. When it turns into something else, you know it’s time to stop.

What are your thoughts on winning the lottery? Do you play for fun, or to win it all one day?

If you’re still looking to play the lottery, check out TheLotto.com, an easy way to buy lottery tickets online from around the world.


David Quilty
David Quilty is a freelance writer living outside Santa Fe, NM. After burning out working in the entertainment field in Los Angeles for many years, David decided to strike out on his own and follow his passions for writing, web design, politics, and green living on a dirt road in rural New Mexico.

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  • anonymous

    Honestly I play the lottery almost everyday and I am unemployed and living with my mom..I am only 21 but I should definitely be doing a lot better than I am at my age. Someone like you would say I am a stereotypical “Poor” person getting “Taxed”…I play the lottery because I want to win. I would never give my money to the lottery if I didn’t want to win. Giving my money away without expecting anything in return doesn’t sound like a smart thing to do to me…Anyways Yes you did name some people who lost everything after winning the lottery but to be honest with you there is at least 1 power ball winner every month and quite possibly more…There are a lot of people who win and go on to have really happy lives with their new found wealth…You act like there are not that many powerball winners…Yes it is true that a lot of people play the powerball but it is also true that almost every month there is a winner. maybe even 2 or 3 winners per month… And most people that win the lottery end up hiring people to take care of their money…They do investments or buy businesses or whatever they want…It is not all bad and it is fun to dream about winning. So maybe you should try not to bash the lottery…And there is one other thing I wanted to point out to you…I have no clue when you wrote this but if you can tell me where there is an account that I can put my money in and get 5% back than I will be your best friend…My bank offers .01% on a savings account and at the most 1% on a CD or Money Mutual account and you only get the 1% if you have like $50k in there so NO you are out of your mind if you think you are getting 5% on $20/month in any account..And my bank is CHASE so it is a pretty big bank…Just saying dude…Anyways Just wanted to comment and let you know that I am poor and I play the lottery every day in hopes of winning and its a shame that you don’t find it fun…I mean dude its like $2/day…A pack of smokes or a meal costs more than that…So just keep all that in mind man…

    • Wayani

      Fuck the orginal author. I’m playing for keeps. I play everyday and I work so I can invest in my state lottery.

    • Melissacheeks237

      Hey bro,you are absolutely right in how you feel and what you say,I am 39 and have been playing with the hopes/thoughts of winning till this day….hey regardless of the odds the bottom line is we could be that one…..hence the ODD 1 lol being the winner,I still choose to play knowing that the lottery officials over the years have now perfected the proper gas that they inject the balls with so it does not look as obvious of what balls they are weighing down so the Jackpot does not get hit and they can run it up higher,a lot of people don’t know about it but that is one of the reasons why there is a 2-3 hour delay after the drawing,the super computer for the lottery system is very fast and would know instantly what state right down to the store sold the winning ticket,so the reason behind why they stop and shut down the lottery machines 2hours before the drawing is so they can gather up all the entire combo of numbers that were played and then they figure the balls to weigh down so that only the non injected balls will surface and continue to run the jackpot up,but still thatsnfine and good so a bigger jackpot for that lucky person,,,,,bottom line is when the jackpot is hit,every combo was played and they can’t cheat that no matter what they do,,,,but I do know I will continue playing cause hey (you never know) you have the same chance as anyone else out there,and you could be that odd ball ;)

    • Marvin Lamar

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    • Tc

      This was 2 years ago i see but u are the real MVP

  • Anonymous

    I don’t mean it horribly but I just think its a waste of time playing the lottery we’ve been playin the lottery for ages now and have not won a penny and I think we are just wasting our money just to not win!

  • Anonymous

    And I mean me not u guys sorry if u got confused

  • Multiplication in 3rd Grade

    You basically said a person playing $5 per week spends $240 per year. There are 52 weeks in a year. For people who do math, that’s 52*5 = 260, your bizarre rounding error caused me to realize you must have no idea what you’re talking about, so I should go counter to everything you claimed.

  • Rainn

    I totally get the viewpoint from which the article is written. I was never a gambler until when I went into a mall where they have those holiday drawings and decided to fill it out with the mindset that “I never win anything like this anyway”. When they did the drawing I won $100.00 for Zales and still have the bracelet as a reminder to have faith. Since then I just started playing The Powerball recently and one of the winning numbers would’ve been mine had I chose to go up/down one number. I smiled at this phenomenon every time I play and took it as the universe’s way of telling me to have faith and that I will eventually win. One day recently I walked by the scratch off machine at my job and said, “Nah”, and kept walking. An inner voice told me to stop and go back and get a $1 scratch off. I won $20 on it. So my approach is more “spiritual fun” than anything. I’m not spending money I can’t afford to be without as my ticket purchases come from the coins I collect over the week. It’s easy to post the shortcomings of some lottery winners, yet there are many who prosper since their winnings that we just don’t hear about unless we research them because it just doesn’t make for “good news”. A co-worker has a gambling problem as he is at the scratch off machine everyday and there will always be people like that who feel money defines their worth only to lose it by aligning themselves with those who feel the same. Either way, people will continue to play whether it’s by my approach or the approach of those examples listed in the article. God Bless both sides :).

  • drewder

    I was looking for an answer of how big the jackpot would have to get for you to be able to win by buying every possible combination. Obviously, trying to win the lottery the traditional way, by buying a few tickets each week, means that you are a moron and I don’t think of the lottery as a tax on the poor so much as a tax on the stupid.

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  • Richard

    I have been buying the lottery for more than 20 years, but only managed to win a hundred dollars or more a few times —not enough to cover the losses. Then I read an article on the internet advising people not to buy the lottery . I followed the advice and saved the money in a bank that pay 5% compounded interest a year .I saved every extra dollar I could. Now 6 years have passed. I have saved a substantial amount of money. Not as big as a jackpot win , but enough to fly first-class around the world and buy many things I fancy. Friends, listen to a good advice. and this is a good advice.

    • Dumplump

      Yeah bullshit. Banks are not paying 5% on an account. That includes premium accounts. A dollar our 2 after 6 years doesnt amount to anything. Your story is complete garbage. Taking ~ 100-200 per year for the lottery is not going to bankrupt someone. Also there are other items that people who do not play the lottery spend their money which others would consider a waste of money. Your story reeks of pomposity. It is nothing more than a “look what I did. Now pat me on the back because I’m a good boy” story.

      • Tc


    • Tc

      Liar Liar pants on FIRE

  • JFG

    People who oppose the lottery understand the power of saving and investing. However, that strategy does not always pan out well. You could save for retirement only to experience health problems, economic downturns, natural disasters, unemployment, etc. Insurance can only go so far, and many people can’t afford health insurance. Meritocracy fails to consider the luck factor of life. Do everything you can to make financially smart choices, but understand that it probably won’t make you rich. The lottery is a good plan B for the volatility of life.

  • Frances Albert

    I read this and it is needs a counterpoint. NO, the lottery is not a wise retirement strategy. But the argument that the odds are so stacked doesn’t play out in real life. People DO win. They beat the odds over and over again. There are even 2 time winners as is mentioned. Losing it all because of stupid financial decisions is not a reason not to pay. Hugely rich people who made their money themselves, have lost it all as well. For example: “The Donald” That argument is irrelevant Consider this: What other odds have all of us beaten? For example, what are the odds that we would be born a human being vs. all other species on the planet AND that we would be born in this time and place in the history of the planet? Billions maybe trillions to one? Yet all of us have already beaten these odds. Play the lottery. Give up one beer at happy hour or forget that second latte at Starbucks and buy a ticket. As the author mentions, the proceeds go to a good cause.

  • pizzapizza

    I know someone who won their state lottery twice and my next door neighbor is a lottery multi-millionaire, so some people do beat the odds. The lottery is a win-win situation as I see it because I am donating money to the schools with my lottery ticket purchase and in turn I get the chance to win millions, so someone is always coming out a winner, whether it is me, other lottery winners, or the students. I don’t spend much money in the stores any longer because I feel I am supporting a country who does not deserve my money, China, so there are worse things to spend my money on than lottery tickets.

  • Tc

    Lol Some people will say anything to make themselves feel good, a lot of people win the lottery everyday, they just dont go public with it, if u dont believe in it stop trying to crash others dreams who believe in winning one day. Peace??

  • Tony Mcneil

    I disagree on one point. It has been shown that the number of lottery players are equal across economic classes.

  • jamie

    Im looking for a website for all us lottery numbers that show which numbers came out or never drawn where I can do history and typing those numbers so I can try to win some money

  • Emy

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  • Zerubafu

    Last I checked, there are plenty of middle class people who play the lottery. While I agree that there are people who are genuinely addicted to it who do far more harm than good for themselves by playing, what honestly upsets me more is that there are actually that many households that are so poor that spending 1 or 5 whole dollars a week on the lottery could ruin their finances that badly. I myself am pretty close to that situation, and I can see the appeal of anything that could give me a chance to have hundreds of thousands or even millions under my name, even if the odds are against me. Especially since I really can’t stand the line of work I am stuck in, which is commonly the case for low income jobs.

    I just don’t like the idea of telling someone slaving away in a minimum wage job they can’t stand to “just save it up for retirement” doing something to improve their current situation, which should be the answer. Then again, what would be the answer? Your idea of saving the money sounds pleasantly responsible, but I don’t see how $12,000 will be enough for retirement, and what do you do to keep yourself from going mentally insane during those 25 years? Working towards a college education does too, but again if you are too poor to spend 1 or 5 dollars a week on lottery tickets you probably can’t afford to even take part time classes, and even if you do defeat the odds and manage to earn a degree in an “in demand” field you will just be rejected from entry level jobs because of age discrimination or lack of connections or relevant work experience.

    Do I think the lottery is “the answer”? I don’t think so, simply because those one in a million and hundred million chances just look extremely unappealing to me, and scratch tickets aren’t much better. However, people do win them on occasion.

  • truckerman J

    what are you saying? are you going to help these poor people realize that they will never become rich? help them see that what they wish for will never happen? tell them that the lottery is just a rich mans game and that we have no business playing it?
    people like you piss me off. us poor people like to have that chance in becoming rich. to do something that you rich people take for granted. we can not join wall street, we have no connections, colleges only help us with careers but it only helps us scrape by, but it does not help us to get rich. Hollywood will never except someone on the outside to get rich and famous. we are not well connected. let me tell you something. we see other poor people win. it give us poor people hope. it pisses me off that you rich people get rich off of us. it pisses me off that you rich complain about us and never once lived like us. now you rich are complaining about the lottery where it gives us hope on getting out of the gutter. you make me sick. I hope GOD judges you.

    • Topkek

      Oh fuck off mate. You know god damn well that this article is saying you’re wasting your money. Stop being pissed off because you’re learning this NOW.

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