What Does it Mean to Win the Lottery?


A lottery is a game where players pay a small amount of money (typically $1) and try to match numbers drawn at random by machines. If they win, they get a prize that may be as large as the entire jackpot for a particular drawing. Many people play the lottery, despite knowing that the odds are against them. However, a number of different strategies can help improve a person’s chances of winning.

The practice of distributing property and other valuables by lot can be traced back centuries. The Old Testament instructs Moses to take a census of the Israelites and divide their land by lot, while Roman emperors used to give away property and slaves during Saturnalian feasts. In the modern world, state-sponsored lotteries have become popular with the general public, as they are easy to organize and relatively inexpensive to operate.

But what does it mean to win the lottery, and how does winning change your life? And what does the process of winning teach us about the nature of wealth, and of luck? This week on the podcast, we’ll explore all of these questions with an interview with Richard, a retired college professor who won the lottery in 2014.

In the early days of the modern lottery, states wanted to expand their array of services without especially onerous taxes on the middle class and working class. They believed that the lottery would be a great way to do this, and they could even eliminate taxation for everyone by selling enough tickets.

Lottery advertising often plays on people’s desire to get rich quick and avoid hard work. It also taps into the idea that we live in a “dog-eat-dog” society, where only those at the top can thrive, while everyone else is just surviving. This is not an untrue narrative, but it is a dangerous one. It’s especially dangerous in the era of inequality and limited social mobility, where so many people feel that the lottery — even the most improbable of prizes — is their only way up.

Richard shares with us some of the things he did after winning the lottery that helped him become a more successful and happy person. In addition to learning how to save and budget, he was able to develop a sense of purpose and build resilience. He has also learned to understand that wealth is a responsibility, and that it’s important to give back to the community.

He also discusses some of the strategies he uses to increase his odds of winning, such as buying tickets with unpopular numbers and playing in states that sell the fewest tickets. Ultimately, though, Richard stresses that there is no magic in winning the lottery and that it all boils down to math and logic. Listen in the player below to learn more.