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Why You Should Never Play Lotto

The psychological and mathematical reasons why you should never play lotto! Plus, why this promise of instant riches is treading all over your dreams.

September 27th, 2010 by Becky Turner


Why You Should Never Play Lotto

Why You Should Never
Play Lotto: A Lottery Loser on
Monday Morning

According to WebMath, one third of people in the United States think winning the lottery is the only way to become financially secure in life. Are they crazy?!

Why do so many people rely on becoming rich "someday" - but don't actually plan on lifting a finger getting there? Why do they rely on a random event at such unlikely odds to make themselves happy?

I just don't get it.

I've never played the lottery in my life for one simple reason: maths. Yes, it would be awesome to win a big pile of cash; the lure of winning the lottery is plain obvious.

But just because I want something to happen, doesn't mean it's going to fall in my lap without me making any effort to achieve it. If I want to get rich, I have to work for it. Anyone who relies on winning lotto to live their dream is deluding themselves.

To bring this point home, I've decided to explore the true odds of winning lotto. I mean - to really understand them. We all know the chance of winning the millionaire jackpot is 1 in 14 million, but do we truly comprehend that number?

Let's look a little closer. In order for you to realistically win the lottery, you would have to play the lottery, every single week, for 269,230 years. That's a looong time. What was the human race up to 270,000 years ago? Oh that's right - modern man had only just started to evolve!

I won't tell you that you're much more likely to die in a car crash, get struck by lightning, give birth to quadruplets, or find a pearl in an oyster. Oops, I just did. The point is, if you're going to start viewing wealth realistically, you have to understand why you should never play lotto.


The Psychology of The Lottery

People who play the lottery become fixated on the dream of winning - rather than the reality of losing. Not just losing this one draw, but every draw, week in, week out, for the rest of their lives.

If I told you right now it would be literally impossible for you to win the lotto, would you keep playing? Of course not! You'd be burning money. Yet, in reality, your odds of winning the jackpot are so infinitesimal, it may as well be an impossibility. Every dollar you spend on lottery tickets is another dollar spent in sheer ignorance of the numbers.

But can the money spent on losing tickets be justified? Don't people have solid psychological reasons for playing the lottery? Let's see. Here are the top three excuses people give for buying lotto tickets:

  • "It's just a bit of fun" - The average American spends $150 a year on lottery tickets (and therefore $1,500 every decade) just to make themselves feel momentarily good when those lotto balls roll out. It's a shame their fun is still so fundamentally deluded. If you're that keen to fantasize about living the millionaire lifestyle, why not actually take action to achieve it? I feel better knowing I'm creating businesses that could one day generate a six-figure sale, than relying on the lottery to hand my fortune to me on a silver platter.

  • "Someone's got to win" - Actually, they don't, not every week. That's why they have rollovers. But eventually someone does, and that's because there are indeed millions of people buying lottery tickets. With jackpot odds of 1 in 14 million, it naturally takes 14 million ticket-holders per draw before the probability of one winner should rightfully play out. Note how on TV, they only show you the one winner - not the millions upon millions of big ol' losers.

  • "It's my little treat" - Americans collectively blow $25 billion dollars on lotto tickets every year. Imagine if everyone began donating their silly little treat to charities instead? That's an extra $25,000,000,000 dollars annually to help those in need, improving the lives of people, animals and the environment. Wouldn't that be a treat?

Whatever way you look at it, the psychology of playing lotto is plain flawed. At the very least, look at it this way: ever since you began buying tickets, you've blown hundreds if not thousands of dollars on a pipe dream. Even if you've won the smaller prizes a few times, you're no doubt still running a major loss. That money rightfully belongs in your bank account, which by now would make a tidy sum to put towards improving your lifestyle. Who robbed you of that? The lottery did.


The Odds of Winning The Lottery

If the psychology doesn't win you over, let's do the maths!

The Odds of Winning The Lottery are Infinitesimal

The Odds of Winning
The Lottery are Infinitesimal

I'm basing my numbers on The UK National Lottery since that's the one I'm most familiar with. However, your national or state lotto won't be much different; the odds of winning the lottery are based on the number of balls drawn, not the number of people who actually play.

In the UK, to win the multi-million pound jackpot you have to correctly guess six numbers from the balls ranging 1-49. Like most lotteries, the same number can't be drawn more than once.

The Maths of Lotto

When you pick your first lottery number, you have a 1 in 49 chance of getting it right. For your second number, you have a 1 in 48 chance. And so on. To win lotto, you have to correctly pick all six numbers drawn, so we multiple these six figures together.

49 x 48 x 47 x 46 x 45 x 44 = 10,068,347,520

At this point, your odds of winning the lottery are 1 in 10,068,347,520 (that's 10 billion). However, since you can select the winning numbers in any order, we divide this by 720 because that's the total number of combinations in which those six balls could emerge.

10,068,347,520 / 720 = 13,983,816

There you have it. Your "lucky lotto ticket" has to be special among 13.98 million other "lucky lotto tickets" in order to win big.


What Does This Number Mean?

"Who cares?" I hear you cry. "It could still be me!"

Oh heavens. Ok, here's an experiment you can do to help truly understand the meaning of those odds...

  1. Get a piece of string 39 feet long.
  2. Arrange the string in a big circle, end to end.
  3. With tweezers, get a single grain of sand and place it anywhere you want inside the circle.
  4. Spin around to disorient yourself.
  5. Get a second grain of sand and drop it in the circle from just one foot up in the air. You can't aim - it has to be random.
  6. Your chances of hitting the first grain of sand is roughly the same as winning lotto. That's 1 in 13.98 million!

Can You Predict The Winning Lottery Numbers?

Once you accept this glaring conclusion, I wouldn't blame you for wondering if there was a way to predict the winning lottery numbers - and thereby significantly increase your chances of winning the jackpot.

Of course, there isn't. But that doesn't stop a number of internet "gurus" telling you that you can. They will wow you with amazing statements of logic such as "The consecutive numbers 1,2,3,4,5,6 have never been drawn - so this series clearly has terrible odds! You are much better off playing random numbers across the scale."

Well thanks, brainiac! This logic is way off though. Just because we see a pattern emerge (1-6), it has absolutely no influence over the winning numbers. Every single number has an equal chance of being drawn. Period.

What's more, these so-called lottery gurus are merely analyzing historic trends and identifying common patterns like birthdays and consecutive numbers. They can analyze all they want; in a completely random selection, past performance is absolutely no guide to future performance. This isn't the stock market; a number game driven by human sentiment and global supply and demand. This is a random number generator!

And of course, if these people really are so good at guessing the winning lotto numbers, why the heck are they wasting their time telling us? If I had such a secret, you can be sure I'd keep it to myself.

The weekly lotto draw is a completely random game that can't be predicted without physically rigging the machine. If you are tempted, please remember that the only way to increase your odds of winning the lottery (minutely, I might add) is by buying more lottery tickets! But that would just be silly, now wouldn't it?


Final Thoughts

So that's why I formly believe you should never play lotto. While it may seem like a bit of harmless fun spending a few bucks on the lottery each week, there is a serious message to take home. Don't rely on the lottery as a means to unlocking your future wealth. You can dream all you like, but simply sitting and waiting for that elusive golden ticket is just plain lazy.

And worst of all, for virtually everyone who plays the lottery, it's never going to happen. The lottery has created this false belief that instant riches come for free - and if you cross your fingers, it'll happen to you.

Get real. Don't put your life dreams on hold. If you want more money to buy a better house, a better car, or a better life - take action. Make some smart investments. Start a business. Work harder. Do what the majority of millionaires did to get where they are today...