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30 Surprising Facts about the Lottery

For one thing, you may not want to strive for the jackpot.

The lottery is a curious thing. Most of us don't pay much attention to it except for those once-in-a-blue-moon occasions when it gets up to an astronomical amount—or at least more astronomical than its generally comparatively huge amount—and news outlets kick off a fervor about how outlandish the figure is. But while the lottery seems like a pretty straightforward premise (pay a small amount, maybe win a big amount), the whole shebang is actually chock-full of strange surprises, curious characters, and fascinating facts. Herein, you'll find a jackpot of the most bonkers of the bunch. And for more lottery-related coverage, don't miss how This Woman Won $5 Million After Buying the Wrong Lottery Ticket.

We Spend More on the Lottery Than All Other Forms of Entertainment

Lottery ticket, facts about the lottery
Icatnews / Shutterstock

According to the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries, Americans spent $70.1 billion on lottery tickets in 2014. For comparison, we spend just $63 billion on sports tickets, books, video games, movie tickets and recorded music—combined. And if you're looking for some ideas on how to manage your own finances, learn the 20 Easy Ways to Stop Wasting Money.

Most Winners Blow Through Their Winnings Because They Are Too Generous

man handing dollar bills, facts about the lottery

While it might seem that so many winners lose their money because they spend it on expensive things they can't afford, according to Charles Conrad, a senior financial planner with Szarka Financial, the biggest issue is that they are too generous, and give away the money to those closest to them.

Voltaire Was an Early Lottery Winner

voltaire, facts about the lottery

The French writer teamed up with a mathematician Charles Marie de La Condamine and identified a loophole in the French national lottery. As explains: "The government shelled out massive prizes for the contest each month, but an error in calculation meant that the payouts were larger than the value of all the tickets in circulation.

With this in mind, Voltaire, La Condamine, and a syndicate of other gamblers were able to repeatedly corner the market and rake in massive winnings." It left him with almost half a million francs and kept him very comfortable so he could focus fully on his writing.

It's Expanded at a Breakneck Pace

lottery ticket, facts about the lottery

Though 43 states now have their own lotteries today, in 1980, this number was just 14. Apparently, the promise of extra revenue for government programs helped convince states it was worth rethinking such laws.

It Preys on the Poor

handing dollar to poor person, facts about the lottery

Disproportionately, those who put up the money for lottery tickets are on the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum. As The Atlantic explains, "The poorest third of households buy half of all lotto tickets, according to a Duke University study in the 1980s, in part because lotteries are advertised most aggressively in poorer neighborhoods. A North Carolina report from NC Policy Watch found that the people living in the poorest counties buy the most tickets."

One Powerball Payout Awarded 110 Second-Prize Winners

powerball winning numbers, facts about the lottery

Known as the "fortune cookie payout," the Powerball drawing of March 30, 2005, produced 110 second-prize winners, who split the $19.4 million jackpot many ways. Eighty-nine winners were awarded $100,000 each and another 21 received $500,000 each (they were Power Play selections). And if you're thinking of taking a stab at playing the next time the Powerball rolls around, check out These Are the Most Common Powerball Winning Numbers.

A $17,500 Win Came From a Tip

bartender pushing drink across bar, facts about the lottery
luckyraccoon / Shutterstock

A patron left a 25-year-old bartender in Oregon a pair of Keno tickets as a tip, and one of them turned out to be a $17,500 win. Though the bartender tried to pay it back, the patron refused, insisting that she keep it.

Another Ticket Became a $3 Million Tip

waiter taking order, facts about the lottery

A lot better than the $17,500 tip was the offer, from a cop to a waitress, to, in lieu of a traditional tip, split a lotto ticket. People describes what happened next: "On April Fool's Day Cunningham called Penzo at 9 a.m. to tell her he had just won $6 million dollars and that she was entitled to half of it. 'I was still asleep,' she remembers. 'I said, "Don't bother me now." ' Cunningham convinced her that it was not a joke. She screamed, and woke her husband, Robert, a construction worker, to tell him they were rich. The two families will split the lottery payout of $285,715 a year over 21 years."

There Are Designated People Who Check Winning Tickets

men in a meeting, facts about the lottery

For example, in the United Kingdom, a guy named Andy Carter, and a team of five people he oversees, personally go to the homes of those who claim to be winners, checks their IDs, scans the winning ticket, and, once he gets the okay from his organization, transfers the money to the winner. Then, Carter offers to connect them with various financial organizations or legal experts who can help them with their new winnings.

Buying a Ticket Illegally Means You Lose the Winnings

Pick pocket, facts about the lottery

An Oregon woman won $1 million in 2005, but when authorities learned that she had purchased it through illegal means—specifically, used the credit card of her boyfriend's dead mother to buy the ticket, along with an additional $12,000 in illegal purchases—they confiscated the prize. Her winnings went instead to the Medford Police Department.

Some Believe the Illuminati Might Be Behind It

illuminati, facts about the lottery

Sure, those who like to believe in the illuminati see the nefarious organization behind everything, but this YouTube clip offers some pretty compelling evidence that the National Lottery might be up to something shady. Watch, then think about it…

How It's Paid Can Matter as Much as How Much Is Paid

bank teller, facts about the lottery

There is a big difference between whether you are paid in installments over three decades, taxed with each payment, or in a lump sum, when you have to pay tax on the entire amount all at once. You (or a financial planner you hire) should compare the effective yield of the two because there can be huge differences.

Some People Scrounge Through the Garbage Looking for Winning Tickets

garbage truck with trash, facts about the lottery

According to The Lottery Wars, there are a surprising number of "scroungers" who look through trash cans for winning tickets—and some actually win. As one of these winners, Ed Rader, explained, "I was trying to pride myself on the fact that it wasn't coffee grounds. It was 'clean' garbage."

Very Few Winners Get Plastic Surgery

surgeon performing operation, facts about the lottery

You might think that getting a bunch of money out of the blue might lead a number of winners to try to shave a few years off their appearance by way of a plastic surgeon's knife. In fact, just 1 percent of winners admit using their winning on plastic surgery, according to Camelot Group, the organization that operates the UK National Lottery. And if you're considering plastic surgery for yourself, don't miss the 20 Things You Need to Know Before Getting a Boob Job.

The First Thing You Should Buy Is a Debt-Free Credit Card

credit card, facts about the lottery
dean bertoncelj / Shutterstock

A new car, house, or jetski can wait. The first thing lottery winners are advised to spend their winnings on is paying down their debts. As Deborah Jacobs, of Forbes, puts it, "With today's abysmal yields on relatively secure investments like CDs and Treasurys, that's especially true. When you've paid down a dollar of debt, that's a dollar you no longer owe. When you invest a dollar, you can't be sure whether it will grow or shrink."

One Winner Paid for a Friend's Funeral—Because He Felt Partly Responsible

funeral coffin, facts about the lottery

When David Lee Edwards paid for his friend's funeral with part of his $27 million winnings, it was not just out of the goodness of his heart. He felt he and his winnings had contributed to the friend's death; Edwards supplied the friend with money that was then spent on drugs, which led to an overdose.

Lotteries Are a Sneaky Tax

calculator, notepad reading tax, facts about the lottery

Lotteries work in some ways like a voluntary tax, with ticket buyers paying money into the state that then goes to many worthwhile expenditures like parks, education, and emergency responders. But as The Atlantic's Derek Thompson puts it, "A political cynic might say lotteries are the perfect public policy: A tax disguised as a game without an organized lobby to oppose it."

Almost Half of Winners Keep Their Day Jobs

woman working in office, facts about the lottery

According to Camelot Group, 48 percent of winners continue to work at their day job after sticking it rich. Of course, that might just be so that they can tell their boss that they will do whatever they like, but it still seems surprisingly high.

Don't Forget to Sign the Ticket

filling out lottery ticket, facts about the lottery

Camelot Group advises any person who calls in with a winning ticket to sign the back of their ticket, so ownership is indisputable and to serve as insurance in case the ticket is somehow misplaced. Carolyn Hapeman, a spokeswoman for The New York Lottery, tells Forbes, "A lottery ticket is a bearer instrument…meaning that whoever signs the ticket and presents a photo ID can claim the prize. So if you haven't signed the ticket and it blows out of your hand while you are waiting for a bus, or if you show it to a buddy in a bar and accidentally leave it on the counter, you've lost the loot.

Lottery Staff Can't Accept Money

pulling money out of purse, facts about the lottery

To discourage some kind of bribery or other shenanigans, those who administer the lottery are prohibited from accepting gifts or money, so slipping an extra $20 into the hand of the guy behind the counter is not going to help you get better numbers.

In Most States, You Have to Go Public

woman hiding behind hand, facts about the lottery

Those who don't want everyone to know they've suddenly come into a huge amount of money, might not be happy to find out that only seven states (Delaware, Kansas, Maryland, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina, Texas, and likely soon Georgia) allow winners to shield their identities, while states like California and Wisconsin prohibit winners from remaining anonymous.

But There Are Ways to Stay Anonymous

Lawyer in Office, facts about the lottery

One way to keep your name from going public, depending on the state in which you live, is to hire a lawyer, form a trust, and let your lawyer do the talking for you.

Watch What You Say

man covering mouth, facts about the lottery

You might want to go around telling everyone that you've won, but besides the fact that this might invite those with ill intentions to try and acquire some of your gains in a less-than-honest way, it might also lead you to naively offer up some of your winnings in the excitement of the moment. As New York City trusts and estates attorney Alison Besunder told Lifehacker, "The bigger problem arises when there is an oral (usually flippant) promise to share the proceeds."

Winning Won't Actually Make You Happier

sad man, facts about the lottery

You might think that a few million in your pocket would instantly put a smile on your face, but a classic research study found that winning big resulted in an uptick in happiness, but one that faded fast. As the researchers put it, "Eventually, the thrill of winning the lottery will itself wear off. If all things are judged by the extent to which they depart from a baseline of past experience, gradually even the most positive events will cease to have impact as they themselves are absorbed into the new baseline against which further events are judged."

The Estate Tax Can Come Back to Bite Winners

man struggling to figure out taxes, facts about the lottery

Getting the winnings in the form of installments can seem like the wisest financial choice, but as Michael A. Kirsh, a New York financial planner, pointed out to Forbes, this approach can leave your next of kin vulnerable to estate tax if you die before the payout period is up. "In such situations people typically buy life insurance policies to cover the estate tax bill," according to Kirsh.

It Can Lead to a Loss of Friendships

people arguing, facts about the lottery

Getting rich not only impacts your life but also the lives of the people around you. It turns out, according to Camelot Group, that about 7 percent of winners report losing friends after victory.

Some Winners Keep on Winning

group looking at tablet in excitement, facts about the lottery

Who said you can only win once? A former math professor (who probably knows a thing or two about odds) has won the lottery four times: $5.4 million the first time, $2 million a decade later, $3 million two years after that, and finally, $10 million in 2010. Yes, this is one of the 20 Craziest Ways People Have Made $1 Million.

Major Movies Have Been Funded by the UK Lottery

billy elliot stamp, facts about the lottery

Among the noble causes funded by the UK National Lottery are award-winning films. Movies like The King's Speech, Billy Elliot, and The Last King of Scotland were all made with some help from the National Lottery. All told, lottery-funded films have scored 14 Oscars and 32 BAFTAs.

Some States Make More From the Lotto Than Income Tax

dollar bills, facts about the lottery

In 2009, 11 states reported bringing in more revenue from selling lottery tickets than in taxing citizens' income. And for more on taxes, check out The 50 Most Tax-Friendly Cities in America.

Many Winners Lose All of It

Unhappy Couple trying to pay bills, facts about the lottery

According to research from Camelot Group, which runs the UK National Lottery, suddenly finding yourself with an enormous amount of money does not make you suddenly financially responsible, with 44 percent of winners losing it all. The National Endowment for Financial Education puts this number even higher: with 70 percent of people who win the lottery going bankrupt in a few years. And for some banking advice that can apply to everyone, see 20 Financial Decisions You're Guaranteed to Regret.

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Alex Daniel
A journalist based in Brooklyn, New York. Read more
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