Winning the Lotto – what chance do I really have?

Winning the Lotto – what chance do I really have? – words Al Woods

What do flesh eating bacteria, meteorites and sharks have in common? There’s more chance of them killing you than there is of you winning the lottery. Seriously.

With these terrifying statistics at hand, it’s a wonder why anybody leaves the house, never mind plays the lotto. Yet, lotteries are increasingly popular – Brits spend an average of £416 a year on lottery tickets and scratchcards. It seems near impossibility is not enough to deter those who cling to the hope of clinching a life changing jackpot. So just how likely is it winning the lotto?


It’s fairly likely you’ll win something   

Not everybody who ‘wins’ the lottery wins millions. The National Lottery creates a millionaire every week and has 20 prizes of £20,000. The odds are even better on scratch cards: 1 in 4 is an average based on the odds of winning across all GameStore Scratchcards.

However, there are more and more different types of lottery available to players. Alternatives to the traditional lotto offer up new and different ways of winning, even if the prizes aren’t always made up of 7 figures.

Lottery players are increasingly likely to play online (not least because of all the sharks, meteorites and flesh eating bacteria out there). Online casinos, such as LottoLand and MyLotto24, offer players in the UK the chance to play the Irish lotto, a game which offers a much higher chance of winning than regular lotteries.

In fact, playing foreign lottos is the way forward if you want to win, even if the jackpots are less lucrative. According to Lottoland, the French Lotto offers the best chance of a win, with odds of 1 in 6. That means that after 6 turns, you are likely to win something, if not the jackpot. The odds of winning anything on the EuroMillions are 1 in 13 and the UK National Lottery is 1 in 9.

But it’s very very unlikely you’ll win big 

Receiving a couple of pounds back may not be regarded as a win for everybody. However, the odds of winning the jackpot differ depending on the lotto you go for. In a lottery where you pick six numbers from 49, your odds are 1 in 13,983,816. So, if you’re holding out for a big win, you’re probably in for a long wait. If you were to buy one lottery ticket each week, you could expect to win once every 269,000 years.

The odds that you’ll win the EuroMillions jackpot stands at 1 in 139,838,160, which in layman’s terms means it is quite unlikely. The UK lotto might be a better bet at 1 in 45,057,474, and the Irish Lotto is far ahead at 1 in 10,737,573. So if you want to aim high, it might be better to choose the Irish lotto rather than ‘bigger’ lotto draws with larger, but less likely, pay offs.

They say it’s the hope that kills you, but even the most stubborn optimist must look at those odds and despair. Nonetheless, 70% of UK adults regularly play. Even past lotto jackpot winners continue to play. Perhaps the more interesting question is not what are the chances of winning the lottery, but why we all play it in the first place?

Why do bother playing at all?

Psychology Today put forward several theories to attempt to explain why so many of us gamble on the lotto. One idea put forward is that players who have previously had a ‘near miss’ are encouraged to keep playing. In lotto, this would perhaps entail getting 3 or 4 of the numbers, or picking numbers close to the winning ones. Intriguingly, a 2009 paper found that near misses activate the exact same reward systems in the brain as successes.

A second idea suggests we simply may not be able to comprehend and understand frighteningly large numbers. For instance, Psychology Today explains that odds of 1 in 200 million do not seem that different to odds of 1 in 3 million to some people. The illusion of control is a third hypothesis put forward, where a person thinks they have some sort of power over something completely random.

Of course, there are genuine reasons as to why we should gamble on the lotto, and that’s because they usually help finance a number of community projects in education, the arts and sport. But we may be at risk of forgetting the prime reason why we gamble on the lottery: it’s a bit of fun.

Writing in The Guardian, Matt Parker argues that “the lottery is not about winning the jackpot, it’s about having a tiny non-zero probability of winning the jackpot. A lottery ticket is permission to dream; to know there is a small chance all of your money and work woes could vanish in a blink of an eye.”

That, surely, is something worth playing for.

Winning the Lotto – what chance do I really have? – words Al Woods


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