Lottery Myths: What Is Fact and What Is Fiction?
There is a lot of misinformation out there about the lottery, including scams and phony playing systems. Though not all myths are harmful or dangerous, many may confuse you nonetheless. In this article, we’ll examine some of the most pervasive lottery myths out there and separate once and for all what is truth and what is fiction.
YOU HAVE BETTER ODDS OF BEING STRUCK BY LIGHTNING
Whether or not you play the lottery often, you’ve probably heard this trivia fact before: you’re more likely to be struck by lightning than you are to win the lottery. The truth of the matter is that it’s a little more complicated than that. If you look at the odds, they don’t paint a very optimistic picture: the odds of getting struck by lightning in the U.S. in any given year are 1 in 700,000, while the odds of winning the US Powerball and Mega Millions jackpots are 1 in 292,201,338 and 302,575,350, respectively. Even the odds of winning the secondary $1-million prizes in both lotteries are much unlikelier: 1 in 11,688,053 in Powerball and 1 in 12,607,306 in Mega Millions.
However, there are many more lottery winners every year than there are lightning fatalities; they just aren’t winning the jackpot. From 2013 to 2015, there were more than 1,300 winning tickets that were awarded $1 million from either Powerball or Mega Millions. Another recent three-year period had 82 tickets that were awarded jackpots. Meanwhile, reporting from three recent years from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) showed that there were only 67 fatalities from lightning strikes in the U.S.
If you’re wondering how that can be, it’s because people usually maximize their chances of winning by buying as many tickets as they can afford—meaning that their odds end up being much better than the ones mentioned above.
PLAYING THE SAME NUMBERS EVERY TIME INCREASES YOUR ODDS
Your numbers might be lucky to you, but playing them every time you purchase a ticket doesn’t make you any more likely to win. The winning numbers are drawn randomly for every draw, which means every number combination has the same odds of winning. While there are many examples of people winning big by playing the same numbers every draw, there are just as many people who selected random numbers and won the jackpot. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t play the same numbers every week if you want; it just means your odds don’t increase with every draw you play them.
SMALLER JACKPOTS ARE EASIER TO WIN
This is another lottery myth that is not true. The odds of winning the jackpot for, say, Powerball, are the same whether the prize amount is $60 million or $600 million. The only way to improve your odds when playing the lottery is to purchase more tickets. Even then, your odds only go up a small amount, unless you’re buying large quantities of tickets, such as when participating in a lottery syndicate.
However, smaller lotteries do have better odds. For example, the odds of the Austria's Lotto 6 aus 45 game are 1 in 8,145,060, while the odds of Italy MillionDAY are 1 in 3,478,761. While these lotteries tend to have smaller jackpots compared to bigger games, their odds remain the same every week, no matter how big or small the prize.
PLAYING THE LOTTERY LEADS TO GAMBLING ADDICTION
Lottery and gambling addiction is a very serious issue that can destroy lives. While it should always be taken seriously, there is no evidence to support the myth that playing the lottery causes gambling addictions. Various institutes have studied the relationship between the lottery and addiction, including the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center, which conducted a National Survey on Gambling Behavior. The study concluded that the availability of a lottery had no impact on the prevalence rates of compulsive gambling. Another study titled “An Exploratory Study of Lottery Playing, Gambling Addiction and Links to Compulsive Consumption” also concluded that lotteries do not create gambling addicts.
While that’s certainly reassuring, it’s important to be aware of the signs of lottery addiction and to know when to reach out for help if you’re starting to feel like the lottery is no longer about fun and entertainment. If left unchecked, lottery addiction can be just as devasting as other forms of addiction—including gambling on traditional casino games such as poker, blackjack, and video slots. Just ask Adam Osmond, who lost his family and livelihood after compulsively spending more than $1 million on lottery tickets in under a decade.
WINNING MORE THAN ONCE IS IMPOSSIBLE
Though winning the lottery might seem like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, many people have won big not once, but multiple times. The myth that winning a big prize more than once is impossible is not based on reality. A lottery player who has already won a jackpot prize has the same odds of winning as anyone else playing that same game. The only thing that affects a prior winner’s chances of winning again is whether or not they continue to purchase tickets and how “lucky” they are. If your dream is to join the ever-growing list of multi-lottery winners, keep buying tickets no matter how much or how often you win.
WINNING THE JACKPOT WILL MAKE YOU HAPPIER
There are many people who believe that winning the lottery means instant happiness. While there’s no doubt that coming into a large amount of money is life-changing, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it will change who you are or change your life for the better. Sure, money can help take away the stress of struggling to make ends meet, but many tragic winners’ stories have shown us that it can add a new slate of problems. While you might believe that winning the lottery guarantees happiness, there are countless stories of lottery winners who suffered and struggled because of their windfall, sometimes to the point that they lost their lives—or at least all the things in their lives that made them happy. Ultimately, you remain the same person whether or not you win the lottery, and if you do win big, it’s important to keep yourself surrounded by people you trust who have your best interests at heart.
TRACKING HOT AND COLD NUMBERS CAN HELP YOU WIN
Some players take a data-driven approach to choosing their numbers by keeping track of the winning combinations from previous draws. By doing so, they’re able to figure out which numbers are hot (ones that have been drawn repeatedly) and which are cold (ones that haven’t been drawn recently). Although a lot of lottery prediction software operates on this premise and some lottery strategists say that choosing a combination of hot and cold numbers is the key to winning big, there is no data to support this. In fact, science says just the opposite. The reality is that every number has an equal chance of being drawn every week, regardless of the last time it was drawn. Nevertheless, that reality doesn't stop readers from writing to us each week asking what the 10 most common Powerball numbers are.
IT’S ALWAYS BEST TO TAKE THE ANNUITY OPTION
If you listen to financial pundits, you might have heard that it’s always the safest and best choice to take the annual instalments instead of the lump-sum payout if you win the jackpot. The real answer to that dilemma is a bit more complicated. There are many factors to take into consideration when deciding how you want to receive your money. The first is taxes. If you take the lump-sum, you know the rate that all of your money will be taxed. If you’re optimistic that taxes are going to decrease over the next decade or so, then maybe the annuity is the better option. This may also vary by state. If you live in a state with low income tax rates, then the annuity could be best.
Another factor is your age when you win. If you’re in your 60s or 70s when you win, then you probably want to take the lump-sum and make the most of your good fortune while you can instead of spreading it out over annual payments that likely won’t be fully paid out by the time you die. Overall, the best way to know which option to choose is by calculating the net-present-value of each choice.
YOU CAN STAY ANONYMOUS IF YOU WIN
There are many cases of lottery winners coming forward and having their lives ruined because of the notoriety of winning big. This is such a problem that lottery officials in China encourage winners to collect their prizes in costumes to protect their identity. If you’ve heard these stories and put yourself in the winner’s shoes, you’ve probably decided that you would choose to stay anonymous. The bad news is that might not be possible. By law, most states require that winners’ names be made public, with only a few states in the U.S. allowing players to stay anonymous. However, one way around this is to set up a lottery trust in your name and have the trust claim the winnings for you.
EVERYONE WILL TREAT YOU DIFFERENTLY IF YOU WIN BIG
This myth is a bit harder to prove or disprove, but there are enough stories of jackpot winners whose lives have been destroyed by their win for us to confidently say that there is some truth to this. Many experts recommend that winners stay anonymous if possible, or to lay low for a while if anonymity is not an option. Some even suggest changing your phone number, as it’s likely that you’ll be hearing from a lot of characters from your past who are looking to ride your coattails.
YOU HAVE TO SIGN THE BACK OF YOUR TICKET
This is one myth that we can definitely get behind. Signing the back of your lottery ticket as soon as you buy it is the best chance you have of being able to protect your claim should you ever lose it. Lottery tickets are bearer instruments, which mean that the person who signs the ticket can legally claim the winnings. If you lose an unsigned winning ticket, then whoever finds it is legally allowed to claim your prize. You know what they say... one person's trash is another's treasure—and a lost ticket is perhaps the most literal example of that!
IT’S BETTER TO PLAY MORE OFTEN WITH LESS TICKETS
This is a tricky myth to bust in peoples’ minds because it requires some understanding of math. It might seem like you have a better chance of winning if you buy one line for four draws, as opposed to buying four lines for one draw. After all, the more often you play the more likely you are to win, right? Well, not exactly.
Let’s take Canada Lotto 6/49 as an example. Each draw has an independent set of winning odds, so for each draw you purchase one line for, you have equal odds of 1 in 13,983,816. However, you can alter your odds if you buy multiple combinations in one draw. If you buy 10 lines comprising 10 different sets of numbers, then your odds of winning are 10 times better: 1 in 1,398,381.6. Suddenly that doesn’t seem so bad, right?
That means to maximize your odds, it is always best to buy more tickets less frequently. If you give yourself a monthly budget for lottery, instead of buying one line every week, spend your budget on as many lines as you can on one draw. This doesn’t guarantee you’ll be a winner, but it does increase your odds.
ALL PRIZES ARE CLAIMED EVERY YEAR
You probably think that since you would claim your prize right away if you ever won, that everyone else must do that too. The truth is, every year millions—sometimes even billions—of dollars in prizes go unclaimed. While there are many reasons why these prizes go unclaimed, the most common one is that people simply don’t check their tickets. That’s why it’s important to always check your tickets as quickly as possible. If you wait too long, you could miss out, as lottery tickets expire. Depending on the lottery, you might only have as little as 90 days to a year from the draw date to claim your prize.
As the above examples have shown, people carry a lot of beliefs about the lottery, and ultimately some are certainly founded while others are not. Knowing which is which will help you develop good strategies and habits that can increase your chances of winning. But for now, just remember that everyone who plays the lottery has an equal chance at winning, an equal chance at happiness, and an equal chance of winning again.