Smart Money

Lottery mania is on the way, but stay cool and follow these tips. You may not strike it rich, but you can be a better player.

As the Texas Lottery blasts into orbit this month, you may find yourself wondering whether you will succumb to its siren song of instant wealth. Stop kidding yourself. The question is not if you will play, but how much money you will spend and how often you will spend it. Surveys in other states with lotteries show that 80 percent of the adult population has played at least once. What matters is playing smart.

Most people assume that they can’t do anything to improve their chances of winning, but they’re wrong. You can become a better lottery player. Ten of the many ways to augment your success are explained below. None of them will guarantee you a multimillion-dollar jackpot, but they may help you win a little more often, and they will definitely keep you from losing as much.

TIP 1

Don’t spend more than one percent of your income on the lottery—max. You may well find yourself tempted to increase your chances by buying beaucoup lottery tickets. But no ordinary person could ever buy enough tickets to guarantee a win. Consider this: The most common lotto game has 14 million betting combinations, so if you buy 1 ticket, the odds will be 1 in 14 million. If you buy 50 tickets, the odds will be 50 in 14 million. Does that sound much better? Only 1 in 54 tickets wins any prize at all. So don’t spend yourself into the poorhouse.

There is no correct or best or normal amount to bet. Annual lottery sales per person vary around the country from just $30 a year in Kansas to more than $250 in Massachusetts. Limiting your spending to one percent is a good rule of thumb. If you make $25,000 a year, that works out to $250 a year, or about $5 a week—plenty of opportunity for thrills and chills without breaking your budget.

The best game plan is to play for the fun of it and for your dreams, not because you seriously believe that you’re going to win. (Being certain that you’re going to beat the lottery is a little like hitting yourself in the head with a ball peen hammer and being certain that it won’t hurt—except hitting yourself in the head with a hammer doesn’t cost a buck a whack.)

The lottery is supposed to be entertainment, and the one percent limit will help you keep it that way. Remember: It only takes one ticket to win.

TIP 2

Don’t spend all your lottery money the first week; the odds will get better. The first Texas Lottery game, Lone Star Millions, is an instant scratch-off game. It’s easy to play and just as easy to lose. You buy a ticket for $1 from a lottery vendor and scratch off the latex coating that conceals dollar amounts printed in six small squares. If three of those amounts match, you win that much. Odds and prizes range from 1 in 10 to win $2 to 1 in 600,000 to win $10,000. The overall odds of winning any prize are 1 in 7.9. That’s not exactly a consumer bargain, and it won’t be long before players figure that out and tire of having only one chance of winning in every eight plays.

Early burnout has been anticipated by the Texas Lottery’s advertising and operations contractors, who are mas-ters of marketing and lottery strategy. As sales fall off, they plan to introduce new games with better odds to keep play-ers interested.

So while you may be tempted to bet heavily in the first two games because they will offer $1 million grand prizes, you should consider holding off. The third and fourth games—scheduled to be introduced simultaneously late this summer—will offer a double-prize feature and a higher overall percentage of winners. Eventually, up to six different instant games will be offered at any one time.

The main thing to remember is to watch the payout odds—which will be printed on the game brochures available at all 15,000 initial ticket outlets. These odds will change with each game, and you might as well concentrate on those that offer you the best chance of winning. Many states now offer instant games with very decent 1 in 4 overall odds, and so will Texas. Watch for them.

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Don’t throw away a million bucks. If you scratch off an instant ticket and find three windows showing the word “Entry” instead of a dollar amount, don’t worry; you haven’t lost. In fact, you have a chance to win big. Write your name and address on the back of the ticket and mail it to the Texas Lottery (the address is also on the back). Twelve drawings will be held in various locations throughout the state, and the lucky winner will get $1,000,000.

What are your chances? Of 300 million tickets in game one, 500,000 will be Entry tickets. That may not sound great, but remember: Not everyone who gets an Entry ticket will go to the trouble of mailing it in. That will increase the chances of those who do, so keep sending those tickets in.

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Play for free. Pay attention to the promotions that may be offered by the lottery and by ticket vendors. For instance, many retailers may offer “Ask for the Sale” promotions, in which you get a free ticket if the clerk forgets to ask if you would like to buy one. Participating service stations will also be allowed to give away free tickets with a fill-up of gas, and food stores can give free tickets for buying turkeys at Thanksgiving (and what better symbol for a bunch of die-hard lottery players than a bunch of frozen turkeys?). Don’t pass up a free opportunity.

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Don’t waste your money on worthless lotto systems. This fall we will see the introduction of the big game with the giant jackpots—lotto, which is based on a centuries-old gambling game that originated in Italy. The Lottery Commission has yet

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