How to Play the Lottery Smarter

As the old saying goes, “You can’t win the lottery if you don’t play.” The problem is that most people won’t play. But even if you don’t, you still need to know what you’re doing to minimize your risk. Whether you’re a newbie or a veteran, here are some tips to help you play smarter.

Lottery has been a popular source of revenue for governments at all levels for centuries. Its roots go back as far as the Low Countries in the 15th century, when town records from Ghent, Utrecht, and Bruges refer to lotteries for raising funds for wall building and fortifications. The Continental Congress used the lottery to raise money for the Revolutionary War, and it was a popular way of raising money for public buildings during colonial era America (the first church building in the United States, for example, was built with lottery proceeds).

Today, 44 states and the District of Columbia run state lotteries. The six that don’t—Alabama, Hawaii, Mississippi, Utah, Nevada, and Alaska—have reasons that vary from the religious to the fiscal.

Regardless of the state, lotteries have broad public support: Most people report playing at least once a year, and those who win frequently choose to receive their prizes in lump sums or annuity payments. Despite this widespread support, there are also many critics of the industry. They cite its role in fueling compulsive gambling and its alleged regressive impact on lower-income groups, among other issues.