How to Win the Lottery


The casting of lots to decide fates and distribute material goods has a long record in human history, including several examples from the Bible. But the modern lottery was born in the nineteen-sixties, when a growing awareness of money to be made in gambling collided with a crisis in state funding. Faced with rising population and inflation, swollen social safety nets, and the cost of the Vietnam War, many states found it impossible to balance budgets without raising taxes or cutting services, both unpopular with voters.

Lotteries provided a way to raise funds for public projects without incurring the wrath of tax-averse voters. Some state governments even owned lottery wheels and allowed other organizations to hold drawings on their behalf. Dismissing long-standing ethical objections to gambling, these new advocates argued that people would gamble anyway, so governments might as well collect the profits.

But there is a limit to how much money can be won through the lottery, and the odds are stacked against those who play often. Cohen describes how a Michigan couple made $27 million over nine years by purchasing thousands of tickets in bulk to maximize their chances of winning. He also explains how Romanian-born mathematician Stefan Mandel cracked the code to winning, and how his strategy has led to big jackpots for him and others.

To improve your chances of winning, avoid picking numbers that are close together or that end in the same digits. It’s also important to diversify your number selections, as it’s in variety that hidden triumphs lie (and remember that there is no such thing as a “lucky number”).