How to Cheat the Lottery System


A lottery is an arrangement in which prizes are allocated by a process that relies entirely on chance. The term is most commonly used in the context of state-run games of chance, but may also be applied to other arrangements that award prizes based on a random process (e.g. a sporting event or other game of skill). Lotteries are very popular in many countries, and have been found to increase spending by those who participate in them. The arousal produced by the prospect of winning a large prize is often sufficient to encourage people to risk the odds of being unsuccessful.

The idea of determining fates by the casting of lots has an ancient history, from Moses’s census of Israel to Nero’s distribution of property and slaves. But the modern lottery is a very different animal, and its rise began in the nineteen sixties, when the burgeoning awareness of all the money to be made in gambling collided with a crisis in state budgets. Inflation, population growth and the costs of the Vietnam War were draining state coffers, and it became increasingly difficult for states to balance their books without raising taxes or cutting services.

Lotteries provide an attractive alternative, as they are relatively easy to organize and have broad public approval. Moreover, they can be justified on the grounds that the proceeds go to a particular cause, such as education. In the American colonies, this argument proved particularly effective, as lotteries financed numerous projects and provided an important source of revenue during the Revolution and the French and Indian Wars.

Almost every state now runs a lottery, and the games are very popular. Some people even buy tickets while shopping for groceries or paying their utility bills. The success of these operations is based on a simple but effective formula: a super-sized jackpot and a slew of promotional material designed to keep players hooked. It’s not unlike the tactics of video-game makers or tobacco companies, only it is done by a government agency.

As the story in this essay reveals, though, there are many ways to cheat the system and win big. Whether it’s by using a computer to help with the selection, by buying multiple tickets, or by following all sorts of arcane, mystical, random, thoughtless and thoughtful, birthday or favourite number, pattern-based methods, lottery winners find ways to make their numbers come up. This is hardly surprising, since the chances of winning are extremely slim. But there is a darker side to this story as well, one that demonstrates the inability of human beings to control their own habits and the impact that they can have on others. As the lottery continues to grow, we must consider its impact on society and the effectiveness of the governmental institutions that regulate it. The choice before us is not to ban the lottery altogether, but to make it fairer for all players. Then, perhaps, it will have a better chance of serving its true purpose of helping those who cannot help themselves.

Categories: Gambling