The odds of winning the lottery are so bad that it almost seems pointless to worry about lottery strategy or tips. Even if you can double your chances of winning, you’ll still probably spend a lifetime waiting in vain for your big day.
On top of that, strategy-minded people tend to understand just how bad the odds are and therefore don’t bother with the lottery. Sure, they may buy the occasional ticket for fun, but I doubt many of them spend any significant time working through the numbers. There are much better games to apply math for an advantage.
But still, the lottery is fun, lots of people love it and there’s no harm in working out a little strategy. The tips listed on this page are based on math, not on fantasy. It is stunning how much bad advice there is out there regarding the lottery.
The Best Lottery Strategies
If you would rather spend your time learning about lottery tips that actually work, this is the place to begin. I’ll get you started and then let you take it from there.
Focus on Your EV, not on Your Odds
EV is short for expected value. In short, expected value tells you the long-term value of any decision that you make in a game of chance. We can use the old coin flip game to show how expected value works.
Pretend you and a friend have a coin and make a bet. If the coin lands on heads, you win $2 from your friend. If it lands on tails, you owe your friend $1. We can tell right off the bat this is a good bet, but we can use a little math to show why this is a good bet.
All you do is multiply the probability of each outcome by the amount you win or lose, and then sum it up. So with the above game in mind:
$2(0.5) + (-$1)(0.5) = $0.50
This means that over the long run, every flip of the coin is worth $0.50. Another way to look at it is if you play this game twice, you can expect to win one flip and lose one flip. You would win $2 on the winning flip and lose $1 on the losing flip for a total profit of $1. After two flips, this shows that each flip was worth $0.50.
If you have a friend willing to play this game, you should play it for as long as you can. It’s a good bet.
Expected value can also be applied to the lottery. Instead of trying to increase your odds of winning the lottery, try to increase the expected value of each lottery ticket.
The expected value is more useful than the odds of winning. But why is it better to focus on the EV than the odds of winning? Well, look at the claim below:
Learn how to double your odds of winning the lottery!
Want to know how to double your chances of winning? Easy! Just buy two lottery tickets! You have now doubled the odds of winning. Want to triple your chances of winning? Buy three tickets! The point here is to show that expected value is more important than the odds of winning (unless you have some kind of inside knowledge about a fixed lottery).
So how do you increase your EV? Well, I’ll explain one way right now.
Let the Computer Pick Your Numbers for You
Most of the lotteries that I’ve seen allow you to either pick your own numbers or let the computer pick them for you at random. It may seem a little odd, but lottery picks chosen by an RNG (random number generator) will give you a slightly higher expected value.
The reason this holds true is because humans are bad at picking numbers at random. If you ask a classroom full of students to try to simulate the results of 100 coin flips, they’ll give you sequences that are far from random. It is well documented that humans are terrible at simulating randomness.
Now, apply that to the lottery. If you pick your numbers based on important dates, lucky numbers, certain patterns or even based on recent lottery results, you’re going to have a slightly higher chance of splitting your winnings (if you are so lucky to win) with someone else.
When you pick your own lottery numbers, the odds are slightly higher that someone else has picked those same numbers. Thus, you have a slightly higher chance of splitting your prize. This slightly lowers the expected value of your lottery ticket.
No matter how you pick your numbers, the odds of winning the lottery remain the same. It doesn’t matter if you pick all 7s or the numbers 1 through 10. The drawing is perfectly random and it is just as likely to pick all 7s as it is to pick something that looks random.
But here, we’re not worried about the odds of winning. We are only worried about the chances of splitting the prize money. The computer is less likely to pick a “popular” number than you are. As I explained in the above section, we should be more concerned with increasing the EV of each lottery ticket than with increasing the odds of winning.
Pooling Your Resources
Lottery pools are common at workplaces and among groups of friends. A lottery pool is an arrangement in which everyone pools their money together to buy a whole bunch of tickets. If any of those tickets is a winner, the winnings are distributed equally among all members of the pool.
Pooling doesn’t increase your expected value because your potential winnings are reduced. However, it does increase your odds of winning because it allows you to effectively play many more tickets than you would otherwise.
This tip does break from my tip above about focusing on the EV, but it increases your odds enough that it’s worth considering. Your expected value is lower in a pool, but you still have a better chance at winning a life-changing amount of money.
You should approach pools with some caution, though. Things can get ugly if there is no legal agreement in place. If someone wins the big one, it’s up to that person to be honest and pay out the rest of the team. Otherwise, you’ll be in for a big legal battle.
Always Sign Your Tickets
Unsigned lottery tickets are as good as cash. If someone finds your unclaimed winning ticket and cashes it in, you will have a hard time convincing anyone that it was originally your property. Sign your tickets as soon as you get them.
Buy Your Own Tickets
If you’re not a part of an official pool, always buy your own tickets. Don’t send other people to the store to buy them and don’t borrow money from your friends to buy tickets. If you end up winning a big jackpot, other people may feel entitled to a portion of your winnings. Keep it simple and buy your own tickets every time.
Along those same lines, don’t make casual promises to other people. It’s easy to tell people you’ll split the winnings when you know your odds are 1 in 175 million, but it’s a completely different story when you actually beat those odds and win the big one. Save yourself the trouble now. It’s OK to be a little stingy.
Make a Plan for the Big Win
I’m sure you’ve heard all the horror stories about people who have won the lottery only to end up broke and destitute a few years later. Don’t let that happen to you. If you’re an avid lottery player, make a plan now for what you will do if you hit it big.
Don’t just assume that you’ll be smarter than those other suckers before you who won the lottery and then ended up in the poor house. Most lottery winners are not wealthy before they win, so they have little experience handling large amounts of money.
The best thing you can do after a big win is to get in contact with a financial planner, a CPA and a lawyer. Consider these people your team and tell them that you want them to help you preserve your money and make smart decisions going forward.
Set aside some money for the long term and keep it diversified. Keep some of your lottery money in cash, invest some of it in stocks, some in bonds, some in precious metals and so on. Do not get heavily involved in investments with which you have little or no experience.
For example, if you have zero real estate experience, don’t use your lottery money to buy a bunch of apartments in your city.
Learn to Say No
If you win, prepare yourself for the onslaught of people who will be pitching investment ideas and asking favors. Once word gets out that you’re the newest big winner, people will be hitting you up left and right with investment ideas, business plans and other schemes.
Speaking of which, remain anonymous for as long as you can. Most lotteries reveal the winner’s name eventually, but avoid that if possible. Prepare yourself now for the day your name goes public. Learn how to say “no” to people.
Don’t worry about hurt feelings. Other people have no right to tell you what to do with your new winnings. If you try to be nice to everyone, you will quickly run out of money and be unable to help anyone.
Lottery Tips that Don’t Work
There are a lot of bad lottery tips out there. They sound intriguing, they may be fun to try and some people just follow these tips for fun. But unfortunately, the simple truth is that the following lottery tips do not work.
I’ve been bad advice published in books, in major news publications and on TV. Bad lottery advice is more common than good lottery advice. I mention these tips because I think it’s good to understand why bad tips don’t work. Then it becomes easier to see why good tips do work.
Number tracking is the process of recording the results of your favorite lottery over a period of time. The goal of number tracking is to identify numbers that are either “due” to be hit or numbers that are “hot.”
For example, someone might see that the number 5 hasn’t been called for the first number in six months and decide that 5 is now due to hit. Someone else might notice the same thing and come to the conclusion that 5 is running cold and should be avoided.
The idea that certain outcomes are “due” to hit is common in gambling. It’s based on a fallacy. In a truly random game of chance, past results have absolutely zero effect on future results. It doesn’t matter if you’re flipping a coin, playing the lottery or betting at the roulette table – past results do not influence future results.
This is assuming a truly random game, of course. If the game you’re playing is rigged, number tracking may help you discover a trend. But let me warn you right now: don’t waste your time number tracking the lottery. You would need a HUGE sample size to determine that something as complex as the lottery is biased.
Even going that far is a stretch. The lottery employs talented mathematicians to ensure the games are random and running according to expectations. Basically, for the average person, number tracking is a futile waste of time. Don’t waste your time with this pursuit unless you have some kind of inside information.
Picking the Same Numbers Every Time
Richard Lustig, who has won the lottery 7 times, says that you should pick the same set of numbers every time you play. He doesn’t say why, exactly, but it sounds good so people eat it up. I don’t have anything against the guy, but his advice is dead wrong.
The truth is that your odds are neither better nor worse by picking the same numbers every time. If you want to pick all 7s every single time for 10 years straight, your odds of winning will be just as good as the guy who picks random numbers every single time for 10 years straight.
Mr. Lustig’s advice won’t hurt you, but it also won’t help. The lottery is completely random every single time.
I also wouldn’t advise you to put too much stock on his claim of winning the lottery 7 times. These are not all Mega Millions Powerball wins. If you spend (waste) enough money on lottery tickets, you’re going to win some prizes sometimes. However, that doesn’t mean you’ll be ahead. The lottery is a very profitable business because the odds are stacked against you.
Number picking tips like this one are based on common fallacies. They may sound good in theory, but they are based on nothing more than fantasy. You must assume the lottery is perfectly random until you have mathematic proof that shows otherwise.
The basic idea behind wheeling is to pick a set of numbers that you like and then to get a bunch of tickets that use many different combinations of those numbers. There are all kinds of wheels out there, but they all rely on you buying multiple tickets with certain numbers included in those tickets.
Some people get deadly serious about wheels. Wheeling enthusiasts even have their own terminologies. The problem with wheeling is that it doesn’t give you any advantage whatsoever. The only way in which wheeling helps is by forcing you to buy more tickets. If you play a wheel and buy 10 tickets, you are more likely to win than someone who only plays one ticket.
Wheeling itself doesn’t increase your odds of winning. The fact that you are purchasing multiple tickets is what increases your odds. So in short, wheeling is a waste of time. You can just as easily buy 20 tickets using randomly generated picks.
Thinking Outside the Box
One thing I will not tell you is that it is impossible to increase your odds or even crack the lottery. I can think of at least two people who appear to have cracked different lotteries. And guess what – both of these people are professional statisticians.
First, we have the woman from Texas who has won more than $20 million dollars in four different lotteries. This woman has a PhD from Stanford with a specialty in statistics. Nobody has quite figured out what this woman did exactly, but I would bet my entire life savings that it had nothing to do with dumb luck.
The odds are so astronomically against this woman winning large prizes (key word here is large – these weren’t piddly little $4500 “jackpots”) four times that attributing it to dumb luck is actually a poor guess. She definitely figured something out about each of those lotteries and was able to increase her chances.
Second, we have the geological statistician from Toronto who figured out how to beat a simple scratch card game in his hometown. He figured out that repetitions of certain numbers on a tic-tac-toe style game indicated whether or not a specific card was likely to be a winner. He didn’t get rich, but he did show us that the lottery is not always perfect.
One thing to remember is that there are many different lotteries around the world. These lotteries are all managed by human beings. Human beings are not perfect creatures, and that means mistakes will be made. Think of all the national lotteries, state lotteries, local lotteries, scratch cards and instant win games out there in the world. Those games are not going to be perfectly random every time.
Speaking of which, it is impossible for humans to be perfectly random. Even computer-powered random number generators can never be truly random. They need some kind of input and an algorithm to generate results that appear random. Sometimes, those RNGs are not configured properly and mathematically inclined people are able to crack the secret code behind the lottery.
Also think about this. Many lotteries promise X number of prizes. In a truly random world, you could estimate the number of prizes, but you could never promise exactly X number of prizes. Therefore, the people running the lottery have to maintain some control over “how random” the lottery is.
In fact, there are some lotteries that release enough information that you can figure out if it’s worth buying tickets or not. In this old post, I explain how you can calculate the expected value of some lottery tickets using publicly available information.
Those are just a couple of examples that come to mind right now. As we get this far into lottery strategy, I’m starting to drift into waters that are above my head. The point of this last section is to give you a little nudge away from those silly “expert” tips that you see on TV and to instead think about how the lottery actually works behind the scenes.
Don’t confine yourself to the “box” of using goofy little number picking strategies such as number tracking, horoscopes and lucky numbers. Break out of that box and look into the nuts and bolts of the lottery.