If you live in Texas and are new to gambling, you might want to consider learning how to play the Texas lottery. It’s government-run and the Texas Lottery Commission in Austin is responsible for making sure the games are fair.

Texas is a funny state, because almost all their laws require an amendment to the Texas Constitution. In November, 1991, the Texas Constitution was amended to create lottery sales in the state. The logo for the lottery is a cowboy hat, which is appropriate enough for a game in Texas

The 1st game available was a scratch off game, Lone Star Millions, and Governor Ann Richards bought the 1st ticket. I met Ann Richards when I was in college, and she was just as witty and intelligent as you’d imagine. The state sold over 23,000,000 tickets the 1st week. The Lotto didn’t launch until a few months later. The first Lotto Texas drawing was in November, 1992. Lottery sales grew to over $1,000,000,000 within just a year.

Since then, Mega Millions has become part of the offerings from the lottery (as of 2003). In 2004, a player from Carrollton won $101 million from Mega Millions. Powerball became available in 2010 in Texas. This post includes what you need to learn so that you can play the Texas lottery like an intelligent gambler.

1-Understand How Expected Return Works in Gambling Games in General and in the Lottery Specifically

I don’t care what kind of gambling you’re going to do, you need to understand some fundamental concepts of probability and gambling math before getting started. One of these concepts is “expected value,” but to understand that, you need to understand probability and odds. Probability is a mathematical measure of how likely something is to happen. Probability is always a number between 0 and 1, but it can be expressed in multiple ways—as a fraction, as a decimal, as a percentage, or as odds.

To determine the probability of an outcome, you divide the number of ways you can achieve that outcome by the total number of possible outcomes. For example, if you flip a coin, the probability of guessing correctly is 1/2. That can also be expressed as 50%, 0.5, or 1 to 1. That last expression, 1 to 1, is odds. That’s the number of ways something can’t happen versus the number of ways it can happen. If you guess heads, there’s 1 way to lose and 1 way to win—hence, even odds. If you roll a 6-sided die and guess a number, you have a 1/6 probability of being correct. That’s the same thing as 5 to 1 odds.

But odds can also be used to describe how much money you win when placing a bet. If you place an even money bet on a coin toss, you’d pay 1 unit if you guessed wrong, while the person on the other side of the bet would pay 1 unit if you guessed right. But the payout odds aren’t always commensurate with the actual odds of winning. In fact, the payout odds are usually lower than the odds of winning. This is how casinos make their money.

It’s also how the lottery makes its money. You can calculate the expected value of a bet by looking at the probability of winning and multiplying it by the amount you’ll win. Then you multiply the probability of losing and multiply it by the amount you’ll lose. Add the 2 together, and you have the expected value of the bet, which is the average of how much you’ll win or lose over time.

Here’s an example:

You’re playing at your neighbor’s in-home casino, and he lets you guess the outcome on a roll of a 6-sided die. If you get it right, he pays you off at 4 to 1 odds. The odds of winning, of course, are still 5 to 1. What’s the expected value of that bet? You have a 1/6 probability of winning 4 units, so that’s +4/6, or +2/3. You have a 5/6 probability of losing 1 unit, so that’s -5/6. Add the 2 together, and you get -1/6, which is the average amount you’ll expect to lose on a single unit bet.

Since the expected value of the bet is negative, you expect to lose money on it over time. In this case, the house edge is 1/6, which is also 16.67%. When you’re playing in the Texas Lottery, the house edge varies based on which game you’re playing. It can be as high as 60% or as low as 22%. As a general rule, the higher the house edge is, the worse the game is for the player.

For comparison’s sake, the house edge for an average slot machine in Las Vegas is less than 10%. The house edge for blackjack, if you’re playing with perfect basic strategy, is usually around 1%. The house edge for roulette, considered by many to be one of the worst games in the casino, is 5.26%.

The best case scenario in the Texas Lottery is to be playing a game with a house edge 4 times greater than the house edge in roulette. It’s okay if you still want to play the Texas Lottery after learning that, but you should understand it before buying a lottery ticket of any kind. Otherwise, you don’t know what you’re doing with your money, and that’s bad.

2- Consider Playing Some Other Kind of Gambling Game

My 1st suggestion to someone who wants to learn how to play the Texas Lottery is to consider some other kind of gambling game—preferably one where you at least have a chance of getting an edge or a positive expectation bet. Gambling games where you can get an edge include blackjack (if you’re counting cards), poker, and sports betting.

Even if you don’t play a gambling game where you can get an edge, consider playing a gambling game with a much lower house edge. You’ll be more likely to win. Since Texas is close to the Oklahoma border, you can easily visit the casino there and play casino games with better odds than the lottery.

If you can afford to travel to Vegas, even better—Las Vegas casino games offer much better odds than the lottery or Oklahoma casino games. It would be foolish to play the Texas Lottery if you didn’t even consider a game with a better chance of winning, though.

3- Stick with the Scratch Cards

Remember how I said that the house edge varies based on which game you’re playing? The scratch cards have the highest payback percentage and the lowest house edge. Depending on the game, scratch cards have a house edge of between 22% and 40%.

Scratch cards also offer the only opportunity for advantage play in the lottery. Here’s why:

When the scratch cards are printed, the number of winners and losers at certain amounts is set. They’re unknown to the retailers. If you wait until a specific game is almost over, and if no one has won most of the games or most of the larger jackpots, you have a better probability of being that winner.

This strategy resembles the strategy of the blackjack card counter. In this case, the deck is the print run of the scratch cards. You’d need to be lucky to find a profitable opportunity here, but I’d be remiss in my duties if I didn’t at least point out the possibility.

All the other lottery games offered by the Texas Lottery have a house edge of at least 44%, but most of them have a house edge of about 50%. That’s customary for any lottery, by the way. It’s not a specific drawback to the Texas Lottery as compared to other lotteries in other states.

4- Use Quick Picks

Of course, if you’re interested in the lottery, you’re probably interested in winning a huge life-changing jackpot. That won’t happen with the scratch off tickets. If you insist on playing the lottery games with the big drawings, I have one suggestion for you:

Use quick picks. When you go to buy a lottery ticket, you have the option of choosing the numbers. Lots of people use their birthdays or the birthdays of their loved ones. Since no month has more than 31 days in it, these people tend to lean more heavily toward the numbers 1-31. The numbers 1-12 are even more commonly chosen.

If you use the same “strategy,” you’re increasing your probability of having to share your jackpot with another player—or even multiple other players. This, in effect, reduces the expected value of your lottery ticket. You’re better off using the quick pick option. This is where the random number generator choose the numbers on the lottery ticket for you. They’re completely random, so you’re just as likely to win, and you’re less likely to have to share your winnings.

5- Budget for Your Lottery Bankroll

I don’t think it’s a good use of anyone’s money to gamble on something with such a large house edge. But it’s not my call. I will share this, though: Any time you gamble—on horses, on casino games, on poker—it doesn’t matter—you should have a budget for it. The sane and rational approach to playing the Texas Lottery is the same as the sane and rational approach to any other kind of gambling. Understand what you’re getting yourself into, first. Then treat any kind of gambling with a negative expectation as an entertainment expense and budget for it accordingly.

This means you shouldn’t spend your rent money buying lottery tickets. If you can’t pay your rent, don’t buy even ONE lottery ticket—not even a scratch off ticket. This kind of iron-clad standard is one of the things you need to prevent you from becoming a gambling addict.I have friends, by the way, who play the lottery regularly and have for years. They all claim that they’re “about even.”

They’re lying and/or deluded. It’s impossible for me to have that many friends who have been playing the lottery for that long who are all breaking even. The math just doesn’t add up. If you go to the movies, you avoid using the rent money or your utilities money to buy the tickets with. Treat the Texas Lottery the same way, please.

6- Apply Card Counting Principles the Scratch Cards

I talked about this briefly earlier, but let me elaborate now. Let’s suppose that there’s a scratch card game with 1000 tickets being printed. (This is just hypothetical—to illustrate a point.) And in this hypothetical scratch card game, you only had a single winning ticket worth $500.

The house edge on that game is easy to calculate. It’s 50%. Now suppose 600 of those tickets have been sold, and there are only 400 tickets left on the market. One of them is worth $500. Now you have an edge over the house. If you bought all 400 tickets for $1 each, you’d win $500, which is a $100 profit. You have a 25% edge over the state.

Of course, you won’t see that kind of easy, cut-and-dried math when you’re buying scratch off tickets. But if you can be patient and wait until lots of those tickets have been sold, and the specific game is almost over, you can theoretically make a bet with a positive expectation on the lottery.

How does this resemble card counting in blackjack? When you play blackjack, you get a 3 to 2 payout on a “natural”—a 2-card hand that totals 21. The only cards in the deck that can form this combination are the aces and the 10s.

If you can track the ratio of aces and 10s compared to the other cards in the deck, you can sometimes catch a deck where the ratio has gotten lopsided because of short-term variance. When that’s the case, you raise the size of your bets to take advantage of the higher probability of getting the bigger payout. Who knew you could take a similar approach to the Texas Lottery?

7- Consider a Lottery Pool

One affordable and fun way to get some money into action on the Texas Lottery is to form or participate in a lottery pool. The 1st step to forming your own pool is to put together (in writing) the rules for participation in the pool. This might be as simple as saying that everyone pays $20 to play in the pool, and the number of members multiplied by $20 is the amount spent on lottery tickets. The prize (if any) will be divided equally among the members of the pool.

It can be more complicated than this if you want to sell different sized memberships in the pool, but I suggest keeping it simple. Every time you get new members or old members drop out, you should put together another document. This can be as simple as an email, but it should include the names of everyone participating in the pool during a specific drawing.

One person usually administers the entire pool. This person is responsible for collecting the fees from the members of the pool and for buying the lottery tickets. You can, if you want to, separate these responsibilities. Most of my experience is with small office pools, though, and they didn’t warrant multiple administrators of any kind.

Once the drawing is over, if any of the tickets are winners, you should make copies of them to distribute to the members of the pool. You should also keep any non-winning tickets in case someone wants to accuse you of wrongdoing. Transparency is key. Anyone in the pool should be able to look at the tickets after the drawing.

That’s about all there is to it. By buying multiple tickets, you’re increasing the probability of winning. You’re trading the size of the winnings, though, because the winners share in the prize pool. Your expected value remains the same, but your odds of winning increase. It’s not a bad deal, and it provides you with some camaraderie when playing the lottery—which is often a lonely and disappointing hobby.


Learning how to play the Texas lottery isn’t hard. You can just go to the local convenience store and buy a ticket, then bring it back after the drawing and ask if it’s a winner. I don’t believe you (or anyone else) should gamble that way. You should know and understand what you’re getting into and make your decisions accordingly.

This means understanding how high the house edge is for the various games in the Texas Lottery and why they’re so high. It also means being able to choose the best possible lottery games and the best possible way to play them. Finally, yes, you can get an edge at the lottery by using a combination of card counting and buying scratch off tickets. That’s not for everyone, but at least it’s a strategy.

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