More Than Finances

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Just Say “No” to State Lotteries

If you know enough to skip buying state lottery tickets, you’re a bigger winner than any jackpot could ever promise.

The organizers of the state lotteries create a ridiculous number of break-even prizes that can turn the odds of winning into something deceptively better than reality. That makes the grand prize seem achievable even though it’s just as difficult to win as ever.

State lottery tickets are usually a waste of money.

For instance, California’s MegaMillions drawing last week promised a one in 25 chance of winning, even though the odds of claiming the grand prize were one in 292,201,338. No one even won the grand prize of $223 million.

Some 24,787 tickets netted an additional $2 above and beyond the lottery ticket price but the odds of winning them was less than one in 100.

Realize also that buying more tickets would not have guaranteed anything. Say you bought 25 tickets in the hopes of winning at least once: Most likely one of those tickets would win $2 but you’d still be out the $48 cash you spent on the other 24 tickets.

Indeed, the overwhelming majority of the ticket buyers lost money on their purchases. Unfortunately, lottery tickets tend to tempt people who may have a harder time parting with their money: the poor usually buy more lottery tickets than the affluent do.

If you feel tempted to buy state lottery tickets, you might as well just donate the money to charity instead.

That’s actually not a far cry from where your lottery ticket money actually goes. For instance, California’s state lottery raised more than $1.5 billion for public education last year. Most other states’ lotteries also raise money for education and, to a lesser extent, public infrastructure.

That said, if you really want to win a prize in a lottery or drawing, be on the lookout for ones that have less competition for entries.

Although there’s no way to know for sure how many people enter any kind of lottery, you can make an educated guess by reading the rules or fine print, even if you have to get magnifying glass to do so.

Here are some signs that a drawing might give you better than average chances:; the prizes only appeal to a limited audience (such as people who live in a certain area or who are already customers of a certain business); the process of entering is complicated; or some kind of skill is required to enter.

Conversely, you might expect tough odds from contests that don’t guarantee that all prizes will be awarded or allow unlimited entries, both of which are true of state lotteries. Other red flags include very long deadlines for entry and only offering a few prizes.

As soon as you spot any of these things in a contest, stop yourself from entering so you can save your energy for something with better odds.

And don’t let advertisements for lotteries make you think there’s more chances to win than there really are. After all, do you personally know anyone who’s won?

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