How to Win the Lottery Using a Monte Carlo Simulation

Lottery is a worldwide phenomenon, and it appears to have two enormous selling points: It’s a relatively low-cost form of gambling and it raises money for state governments without raising taxes. But these benefits come with some hefty costs, too, especially for those who play regularly. Buying lottery tickets eats into savings that might be needed for retirement, education or medical emergencies. It also diverts time and energy that could be spent on more productive activities.

The popularity of the lottery is evident from the fact that people spend billions each year on lottery tickets. But winning a jackpot is extremely rare, and even small purchases can add up to thousands in foregone savings if players make it a habit. And when it comes to picking the right numbers, a gut feeling is no substitute for mathematical analysis.

A simple statistical tool called a Monte Carlo simulation can help you calculate the odds of a number being picked. The graph below shows the probability of each of six numbers appearing in a lottery drawing based on the number of times they’ve been selected previously. The colors indicate the frequency with which each number has been awarded a particular position, with black representing the least common color and red the most common.

If you want to increase your chances of winning, choose numbers that are not close together or that have significance to you, such as birthdays or ages. Harvard statistics professor Mark Glickman warns against choosing sequences that hundreds of other people have chosen, since they have a higher chance of being selected than more unique combinations.