Playing the lottery is easy, right? You pick your favourite numbers, then sit back and wait for the winnings to roll in. Of course, it’s not that simple. Let’s dive a bit deeper into how lotteries really work.
Lotteries take many forms, but most involve a random draw of numbers. If your numbers match the randomly selected numbers, you win. The more of your numbers that match the ones drawn, the bigger the prize you win.
Whether you buy your tickets online or in-person, the odds of winning a lottery vary wildly, as do the price of a ticket and the prizes. The odds may depend on how many tickets have been purchased—by you and by other people—and how many numbers you need to match. Generally speaking, the odds of winning the top prize are very low, even in comparison to other types of gambling.
Let’s take the example of a fairly common lottery, a draw of six numbers between one and 49. The odds of winning the jackpot, which requires you to match all six numbers, are 1 in 13,983,816. And that’s not all. Even if you win, if more than one person also matches all six numbers, you split the jackpot, reducing your share.
But prizes are awarded if you match only a portion of the numbers drawn, right?
Yes, but the odds of matching five out of six numbers—1 in 55,492—aren’t exactly great. And in many cases the prize for matching five numbers is small, often only a few hundred dollars, compared to millions of dollars for the jackpot.
The odds of winning a 50/50 draw typically depend on how many people buy tickets. If you buy one ticket, you get one number. If that number is selected in the draw, you get half the value of the tickets sold. In other words, the house advantage for a 50/50 draw is typically around 50 percent, meaning half of the amount wagered is taken away from the prize pool.
There is nothing you can do to improve your odds of winning the lottery.
The lottery is purely chance based. There are no special skills you can acquire to become better at picking numbers, or winning, apart from buying more tickets. The best approach is to research the rules of the games you like to play, find out the odds of winning, and use that information to make the right choices for you.
Quick Picks don’t improve your odds of winning.
Using the Quick Pick option, where the numbers are randomly chosen for you, doesn’t improve your odds of winning—and it doesn’t make them worse. Every number has an equal chance of being drawn, whether you pick it or a computer picks it for you.
Choosing unpopular numbers doesn’t help either.
Choosing a combination of numbers that few other people would pick does not improve the odds that your numbers will come up. However, if no one else has picked the same numbers as you, you won’t have to split the winnings with other people.
Picking the same numbers each week doesn’t improve your odds of winning.
It doesn’t make them worse either. Each time the numbers are drawn, there is the same chance they will come up as last time.
More people seem to win in Ontario because more people live there.
It may seem like people from Ontario win national lotteries all the time. The reason why is simple probability. More than a third of Canada’s population lives in Ontario. So it makes sense that winning numbers come from the province roughly a third of the time.
|Game||House advantage, with optimal play|
|Fortune pai gow poker||0.5 to 2.5%|
|Poker||2 to 3.5%|
|Slot machines||8% (average)|
Keepin' it fun
Dreaming of winning the big jackpot is fun. And, while it’s exciting to play the lottery, it’s still a form of gambling and making it a part of your entertainment budget, like cash you’d spend on a movie or a night out, ensures you don’t spend more than you can afford.
Figure out how much you want to spend in advance and set it aside. The lottery isn’t an investment that guarantees a return, so just have fun.