Published On: Sat, Mar 18th, 2023

Why you should avoid lotteries

By Hilbert Haar

Let me begin with a confession. I have been a poker player for close to twenty years. But I am not a gambler.

You see, there is a difference between playing games of chance – where the outcome depends on dumb luck – and games of skill (like poker) where the outcome depends for a large part on how you hold up against other players.

Slot machines and lotteries fall in the games of chance category and on St. Maarten you almost literally break your neck over the lottery booths. I have nothing against lotteries as such, or against people who believe that buying a ticket is the smartest way towards financial independence. But I would like to warn these people: it isn’t.

If lottery-organizers were honest people, they would tell you how many tickets they sell for a particular draw. If there are just a hundred tickets, chances that your ticket will win are one in a hundred. If there are a thousand tickets …… I guess you can do the math. Your odds are terrible.

Slot machines are not much better. For casinos these machines are business. They are moneymakers. In Las Vegas, the Gaming Control Board publishes the payout percentages of each individual machine. Some machines have a payout of as high as 97 percent.

What does that mean? Of every hundred dollars you put in, the machine keeps three dollars. Then you put in your remaining 97 dollar and again you get only 97 percent back. If you play long enough, the casino will have all your money.

One evening I came out of the Princess Casino where I had played a poker tournament. It was maybe one o’clock at night. At the exit I saw a middle-aged woman standing. I offered her a ride and we started talking.

She told me that she had just lost all her money playing slot machines, saying that every now and then she would win as well. But now all the household money was gone. I said that is is okay to play slot  machines if you like doing that. But don’t play with money you cannot afford to lose. She sighed and nodded. She understood, but this time around my well-intended advice came of course too late.

What is true for playing slot machines, also applies to buying lottery tickets. You have to know that the odds are not in your favor and you have to act on that knowledge. Of course, not buying lottery tickets is better than playing the lottery at all. But I understand that for many people the attraction is just too strong.

I’d say that it is okay to spend part of you money on lottery tickets. But not all of your money. That is crazy. Some people spend a lot of money on cars, expensive clothing or (even more expensive) women. And sure, everybody is allowed to have fun but don’t take your bank card to a casino.

I like playing poker but I have mostly stayed away from cash games because that is where you can literally lose your shirt. I have played many tournaments. They are a lot of fun and you know beforehand how much they are going to cost you. Some day, I went home a little lighter, financially speaking. And on other days, I had a couple of thousand dollars in my pocket.  I have lost some and I have won some, but I never went broke.

I understand very well that this strategy does not work for very one. The temptation can be very strong to buy another lottery ticket, or to throw another bucket of quarters into a slot machine. As long as it is not your household money, that’s okay. But in the long run you would be better off by leaving gambling to people who can afford to lose a fortune and still sleep well at night.

Oh, and don’t forget this. Lottery-companies are very profitable. As a rule of thumb, they put not more than 50 to 60 percent of ticket-sales into the prize pool. When a client wins big they are happy, because it is no skin off their nose and the picture in the paper encourages even more people to flock to their lottery-booths. Don’t fall for it.


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