I play the lottery, and almost everyone I know has played it at some point in their life. This means that lottery games are popular. But it doesn’t mean that lottery games are the best use of your money.
Everything about playing lottery games ends up bad. Even though you can play for $1 or $2, the long term return is worse than any other gambling activity. Unless you get enough entertainment from buying lottery tickets to cover your cost, you should stop playing.
Here’s a list of 7 ad facts about lottery games that every lottery player needs to know.
1 – The Return to Player Numbers Are Very Bad
When I consider participating in a gambling activity the first thing I look at is the return to player numbers. With the return to player numbers I know how much I can expect to get back for every $1 a risk and I know how big the house edge is.
The return to player percentage and the house edge are 2 sides of the same coin. When you add the house edge and return to player percentages together you get 100%. This means that if you know the edge you can subtract it from 100 to get the return to player and if you know the return to player percentage you can subtract it from 100 to get the house edge.
These numbers are useful for many different reasons. The main way I use them is to compare different gambling opportunities. Gambling activities with a lower house edge, which is the same as higher return to player percentage, are almost always better than games that have a higher edge and lower return to player.
Lottery games are terrible when it comes to return to player and house edge numbers. The exact numbers depend on the specific lottery games you’re playing, but the best games have a return to player around 50%, and the worst are as low as 20 or 25%. This leaves a house edge of 50% to 80%.
This might not mean much if you don’t have any context. Here are some numbers to help you put this in context.
Slot machines have a return to player of between 85% and 95% on average, which is house edge of 5% to 15%.
Blackjack games have a return to player of 95% to 99.75%, which is a house edge of .25% to 5%.
Most other casino games have a return to player between 94% and 99%, which is a house edge of 1% to 6%.
Now you can see just how bad the numbers are when you play the lottery.
2 – The Odds Are Astronomical or Worse
Return to player numbers, the house edge, and the odds are closely related but they’re not exactly the same. Odds are used to determine the return to player and edge numbers, but they’re more useful as a way to see how likely you are to win something.
For example, if you have odds of 1 in 250,000,000 of winning something, it means that if you played 250 million times that you should win 1 time. In other words, the odds are against you ever winning because there aren’t many things you can do 250 million times.
In fact, if you and everyone you know bought a ticket twice a week for as long as you live for a 1 in 250,000,000 shot, none of you are likely to win. And this is exactly like the odds of winning the lottery every time you buy a ticket.
Your odds of winning on a pick 3 or pick 4 or a scratch off ticket are better than this, but the amount you can win is much lower. I cover more about this in the next 2 sections.
The important thing to understand is that the odds are stacked so high against you when you play the lottery that it’s a waste of time and money.
3 – Daily Tickets Are Just As Bad As Big Draws
So far you learned about return to player numbers, the house edge, and the odds. The odds can be better for a game while the return to player and house edge numbers can be the same, or similar. And this is what I mean when I say that daily tickets are just as bad as big draws with lower possible rewards.
The odds of winning a daily lottery ticket, like a pick 3, are much better than the odds of winning a big lottery draw. In fact, the odds of winning a pick 3 are 1 in 1,000 on a straight ticket.
But the return to player numbers and house edge are usually about the same playing daily games as playing big draw lottery games. Remember that the return to player is based on how much of the money taken in is paid back out to holders of winning tickets.
4 – Scratch off Tickets Are Even Worse
I suppose that it could be argued that scratch off lottery tickets are no worse than daily lottery games. But in the end it doesn’t matter if they’re worse or not. Both options are terrible for gamblers.
Scratch off lottery tickets have the same issues as daily games. The top prizes are much smaller than the top prizes on Mega Millions and Powerball and similar games, and the return to player numbers aren’t better on most games.
And even if the returns to player numbers are 10 or 20% better, you’re still risking money on a game that’s worse than every other gambling option. Why take the risk when you can’t even win a life changing amount of money?
5 – A Lifetime of Losses
If you play the lottery in any form you’re going to lose. And the longer you play the more you’re going to lose. If you play lottery games your entire life, you’re going to spend your entire life losing.
The only way to avoid a lifetime of losing as a lottery player is to stop playing.
I already explained how bad the odds are, and it doesn’t matter how many tickets you buy. The house edge is going to win even when you get lucky and win a small amount from time to time.
6 – The Only Value Is Entertainment
You can buy lottery tickets for one reason and one reason only that might be acceptable. When you buy a lottery ticket for Powerball or Mega Millions, do you send some time dreaming about how you’re going to spend the money if you win?
This is a form of entertainment, and as far as entertainment goes it’s a fairly inexpensive form. If you get 30 minutes worth of entertainment from buying a $2 lottery ticket, that’s actually pretty good value. But if you only get 2 minutes of entertainment value, it’s not as good.
It costs anywhere from $20 to $100 for most common forms of entertainment. And this number can be much higher. If you get some entertainment value out of buying a ticket then feel free to do it. But don’t expect to really win, and don’t spend too much money.
If you’re buying $20 worth of lottery tickets, you might be better off seeing a movie or going out to eat.
7 – Basically Any Gambling Activity Is Better
By now you should be able to clearly see that lottery games are the worst way to gamble. It’s ok to spend $1 for a ticket every once in a while for the entertainment value, but overall the lottery is terrible.
The only downside to most other gambling activities is that you risk more money when you play them. But there are ways to gamble for a few bucks that offer better numbers than playing the lottery.
I recommend finding a gambling activity that offers a better chance of return that is cheap to play. This is going to save you a great deal of money in the long run.
If you’re playing lottery games for any reason other than entertainment you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. The odds and return to player numbers are so bad that it’s basically impossible to win.
Daily tickets and scratch off games offer the same terrible return to player numbers as the big draws with a much lower limit on how much you can win. Lottery players are simply playing games that they can’t win.
The lottery is so bad that any other gambling activity is better. It might be cheap to play in the short run, but the lottery costs you a lot of money in the long run.
Michael Stevens has been researching and writing topics involving the gambling industry for well over a decade now and is considered an expert on all things casino and sports betting. Michael has been writing for GamblingSites.org since early 2016. …