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How to Win the Lottery

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As Cohen writes, in the modern era lottery “played to the nation’s tax revolt.” In the late nineteen-sixties, when inflation, rising population, and the cost of Vietnam War wartime spending started to deflate America’s postwar prosperity, many states began lotteries. The idea was to get the public to pay for state services without raising taxes. It was a hopeless gamble, but it had its charms.

In most states, the vast majority of lottery participants and revenues come from middle-income neighborhoods. But the poor, those in the bottom quintile of income distribution, don’t have much discretionary money to spend on lottery tickets. And even for those in the upper half of the distribution, who may have a few dollars here and there to spend on a ticket or two, the chances of winning aren’t very good.

Lottery players know the odds are long, but they still play because of an inextricable human impulse. They want to be the one in a million or so who wins. They have all sorts of quote-unquote systems, based on everything from lucky numbers to lucky stores and times of day, that they believe will help them win.

The key to a winning lottery strategy is math, not luck. It’s the only way for lottery players to make informed choices about how many tickets to buy and what types to choose. They can’t know in advance what will happen in the next drawing, but they can make educated decisions based on probability.

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