The Truth About Winning the Lottery


People spent more than $100 billion on lottery tickets in 2021, making it the most popular form of gambling in the country. And while states tout the games as ways to raise revenue, they’re doing more than that—they’re fostering an irrational belief in meritocratic wealth that’s not sustainable in our age of inequality and limited social mobility.

The idea of winning the lottery is appealing because it makes us believe that we can overcome our most significant problems by relying on luck. But in reality, it is almost impossible to win. There’s no grand design or system that can bestow a person with the winning numbers; it’s truly random. The only way to guarantee a lottery win is to cheat, but that’s not recommended and often ends in prison time. The only other way to increase your odds of winning is to buy more tickets. And if you want to improve your chances of winning, choose numbers that aren’t close together—other players might select the same ones and it decreases your chances of sharing the jackpot.

The earliest known lottery drawings were keno slips from China’s Han dynasty (205 to 187 BC). In the 15th century, Francis I of France began lotteries in Burgundy and Flanders as a way to raise money for war defenses or the poor. These were the first public lotteries to award cash prizes. Later, American colonists used the practice to fund the Revolutionary Army and other local projects.