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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.

powerball lotteryPlayers 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.

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?

(photo credit: Shutterstock)

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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Comments

  • 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 ;)

  • 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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