6 Secrets From a 7-Time Lottery Winner

From picking your numbers to winning the prize.

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Twenty-seven years ago, Richard Lustig had never even purchased a lottery ticket. Today, he’s scored seven grand prizes, and is hoping to win big in the nation’s largest Powerball. His book, Learn How to Increase Your Chances of Winning the Lottery, is just one piece of his lifelong mission: to teach people how to be strategic about playing the lottery. Feeling lucky? Here are six mistakes he says you should avoid.

1. Leave Luck Out of It
If you wish Lustig good luck before a lottery drawing, he’ll tell you he doesn’t need it. Just like anything else you’re new to, you should become informed before sitting down to play, he says: “If you’re at a friends house, and everyone says ‘Let’s play Monopoly!’ and you don’t know how to play, the first thing you’re going to do is ask them how to play.”

2. Don’t Buy Quick Picks
Quick picks are the computer-generated tickets that a store clerk prints out for you, eliminating the option to choose the numbers yourself. Though more people have won grand prizes with quick picks than those who pick the wrong numbers, millions of more people have also lost using quick picks, Lustig says.

3. Stay Away From Birthdays
Lottery newcomers are likely to fill out their tickets with birthdays, anniversaries, and other significant dates. But limiting yourself to these numbers decreases your chances of winning, Lustig says. Powerball requires you to pick five numbers between 1 and 69, but if you’re only choosing numbers between 1 and 31 (the number of days in a month), you’re not even playing more than half of your options. “If you’re going to pick your own tickets, make sure to spread your choices out over the gamut of choices they give you to pick from,” he says.

4. Never Change Your Numbers
After you choose your combination of numbers, stick with it every time you play. It’s almost impossible for the same winning numbers to come up again, so every time you buy the same numbers, your odds of winning at the next draw increase, according to Lustig.

5. Don’t Fall for Lottery Scams
If you receive a phone call, a letter, or an email saying you’ve won 75 million dollars, and all you have to do is send in $2,500, don’t fall for it. “You can’t win a lottery that you didn’t buy a ticket in,” Lustig says. Additionally, you should never have to send in money before you receive your winnings.

6. Don’t Believe the “Lottery Curse”
Though there may appear to be a curse—people winning large amounts of money and going bankrupt a few years later—Lustig believes it probably has to do with the winners not knowing how to handle their money. His advice? Pay off all of your debts first. “Pay off your house, pay off your credit cards, pay off your loans. Make yourself debt-free. You didn’t have that money yesterday, so put it to good use,” he says. His second step: “Hire yourself a good accountant, and a good financial planner. They will help set you up with a financial plan so that your future is protected." After that, you can have a little fun. “Go out and buy the talking cars,” he jokes.