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Is it Fair to Play the Lottery?


The lottery is a fixture in American culture, with people spending upward of $100 billion on tickets each year. It is the most popular form of gambling, but it raises money that helps governments pay for important things like schools and infrastructure projects. This isn’t a slam on the lottery, but it does raise some serious questions about whether it’s fair to encourage people to spend so much of their hard-earned cash on it.

The odds of winning a lottery prize are extremely low, but jackpot prizes can grow to seemingly newsworthy amounts and attract attention from the media and potential customers. But these super-sized jackpots have a cost for the state and federal governments in terms of commissions for ticket retailers, overhead for lottery administrators, and taxes on winning tickets.

Despite these costs, many people continue to play the lottery. They often buy multiple tickets, and they look for strategies that increase their odds of winning. One common strategy is to select numbers that are associated with significant dates or events, such as birthdays. This increases the likelihood that others will also pick those same numbers, increasing their chance of winning.

Harvard statistician Mark Glickman suggests choosing random numbers or Quick Picks instead. He also warns against buying “tips” about how to improve your chances of winning, which are typically based on statistical mistakes. For example, selecting numbers that are close together increases your chances of winning, but it decreases the chance that you will win a significant amount.