Six Lottery Myths Debunked

If you play a lottery game, or even talk about the lottery much to your friends who gamble, you’ve no doubt been ridiculed. Here are the 6 most common lottery myths I hear, and how to easily debunk them.

Myth 1: Lottery games are fixed

Ah, yes, the old “The fix is in” argument, right? Look, anyone stupid enough to not do their research and figure out if the lottery game they’re playing is legit or not deserves to be ripped off. And don’t blame the legit lottery industry for these troubles – show me a segment of any gambling business that doesn’t take advantage of naïve players. The easiest way to bust this myth is to do business with legitimate lottery interests. Organizations like the Multi-State Lottery Association (the company that runs Powerball, among other lottery games) operate completely above-board, with games tested by third-party auditors, shareholders the company must be responsible to, and transparent public records. Few, if any, of the American state lotteries have ever been involved in corruption scandals anyway. But, as always, caveat emptor, buyer beware. Be a smart bettor and make sure the game you’re playing isn’t a fixed game.

Myth 2: Lottery game odds are too long

The odds of winning the top prizes in lottery games is in fact quite long, whether you’re talking about random number drawings on paper tickets or scratch-off instant wins. But the odds of winning any casino game’s top prize are long. Slot machine players may dream of the million-dollar jackpot, but they’ll settle for a win of a few hundred bucks, in fact those smaller wins keep them going. The average scratch-off ticket in the United States has odds of around 1 in 3 or 1 in 4, depending on what state lottery system you’re taking part in. Understand that these are break-even averages, which include prizes equal to the cost of the ticket. Those aren’t great odds compared to the low house edge in a game like blackjack, but as its own game, lottery tickets are not a bad investment by any means. Regular lotto players are working harder to win the budget-sustaining (and more common) $100 prizes. Most of them don’t really expect to see the combination of symbols that leads to a life-changing $1 million payout. The odds on these smaller prizes are not “too long” by most gambler’s standards.

Myth 3: Lotteries encourage gambling addiction.

This is a rather Puritanical argument. Besides that, it’s just plain wrong. For starters, lottery organizations are usually required to donate a portion of their winnings to problem gambling treatment and research, which means the amount people play is directly proportional to the amount of additional funding the state gets for problem gaming. But beyond that donation (which is outmatched, for the most part, by donations made by lotto providers to educational and other municipal funds), industry watchdogs exist to make sure that lotto games and their advertisements don’t do anything to encourage anyone to gamble. A good example is this recent story from the UK lottery system in which a watchdog group quickly complained about a particular lotto game advertisement, at which point it was immediately pulled. In plain language, lotteries go out of their way to not encourage people to engage in risky gaming behavior. Most of them donate funds directly to anti-problem gambling campaigns. The benefits of these games, especially to state budgets, far outweighs the risk of supplying easy-access games to problem gamblers.

Myth 4: The lottery is a tax levied on people who are bad at math.

Ha, ha, hilarious, I get it. This one earns points for being both corny and elitist. It implies that anyone who plays lottery games as part of their gambling strategy is “bad at math” (and also probably stupid by extension). Originally attributed to the writer Ambrose Bierce, who probably should have been concentrating on his crippling asthma instead of shooting darts at the lottery industry, this quote is the bane of lotto player’s existence, and it pops up everywhere. All gambling is risky. Some casino wagers give the house a far higher edge than a standard lottery game, but people don’t think casino gamblers are bad at math, do they? In fact, casino gamblers have earned a sort of sexy and cool reputation, even though many of their gambles offer longer odds than lotto winnings. The trick is to find a gamble that gives you the maximum value for your total bankroll, right? Well, then, who is to say what is a good bet and what is not? Some scratch card lotto instant win games have odds as low as 1 in 2.8 (Millionaire’s Club by Texas Lotto is a good example), which is a decent chance at breaking-even. There, that proves I’m good at math. Stop telling me what types of bets I should and should not enjoy.

Myth 5: Lottery winnings are cursed.

State lottery jackpots can get pretty high. The multi-state games (Powerball in America or any of a handful of Western European equivalents) have exponentially-larger top prizes at times. The largest single lottery prize to date is a $657 million win by a group of three teachers in the United States. That kind of money is life-changing, no matter how well-prepared you are. So it’s not so much that the lottery is cursed – this is a cultural myth on the level of “every bar of chocolate has at least six spiders in it” – it’s that people are stupid and generally unable to handle the impact of large chunks of cash being added to their bank account balance. There is a simple fix for this curse problem – if you’re lucky enough to win a huge prize, don’t be an idiot. Hire an attorney (or two, or three). Hire an account (or two, or three.) Stay as anonymous as possible. Invest your money. Don’t live beyond your means or your desires. Don’t mess with drugs. Don’t be stupid.

Myth 6: Lottery game rules are complex.

It’s easy to understand how a person unfamiliar with the games themselves could think this, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. Lottery tickets are, after all, “the people’s gamble,” available to most Americans at every shop within walking distance of their home. They’re designed to be easy to play. The instructions are written on the cards. Most lottery providers run websites and even toll-free phone lines that offer help. Modern technology means you have the ability to check your tickets for wins and losses at the same shops that sell the tickets, just to be double-sure. Don’t worry – playing the lottery is easy. Winning isn’t.