The lottery is a game where the luck of the draw makes a huge difference in the lives of the winners. It doesn’t care if you’re black or white, Mexican or Chinese, tall or short, Republican or Democrat. All that matters to the game is your numbers and whether or not they match up with those of other players. The lottery is also one of the few games in life that is open to everyone, no matter their social status, income level, or educational achievement. The odds of winning the lottery are extremely low, but it isn’t impossible. Stefan Mandel, a Romanian-born mathematician who has won the lottery 14 times, has shared his formula to help others increase their chances of success. His formula is simple: the more tickets you buy, the better your chance of winning. However, the higher the stakes are, the more difficult it becomes to purchase enough tickets.

The state lotteries of America, and in fact many other countries around the world, have a unique feature that distinguishes them from other forms of gambling: they are run by the state. That’s important because state governments have an interest in managing activities that produce revenue for them, and in the case of lotteries, a specific type of revenue: profits from gambling. In an anti-tax era, lotteries are a source of “painless” revenues that state governments can depend on, and they are constantly subject to pressures to expand their operations.

Most people who play the lottery do so because they enjoy it. There’s certainly an inextricable human impulse to gamble, and there is something fun about buying a ticket and hoping you might get lucky. However, the real problem with lotteries is that they are promoting gambling and promising instant riches to a large group of Americans who can ill afford it. They’re dangling the carrot of wealth to poorer, less educated, and nonwhite Americans, many of whom are stuck in dead-end jobs and have little social mobility.

Despite the glitzy advertising, the odds of winning the lottery are actually quite low. A Harvard statistics professor recommends picking random lottery numbers instead of a sequence that’s meaningful to you (such as your children’s birthdays). And don’t choose tickets based on significant dates such as wedding anniversaries. Those numbers have a lower chance of winning, because more than one person will be drawn to those dates. But most importantly, don’t spend more money on a ticket than you can comfortably afford to lose. That’s a recipe for a big blow to your financial health. And if you don’t have that kind of financial health, it might be time to find another hobby. Maybe knitting?