All my comments are specifically about DC and Maryland lotto, but the games are broadly similar state to state. Private casinos are a different story- when you lose at a casino you are : paying Nevada’s taxes, enriching billionaires, paying for an “entertaining place to hang out”, which calls for a different strategy.
Big Prize Lotto
Lotto is a game about possibilities. It is worth a buck to create the possibility of being a millionaire. However, if you play that bet, make sure you actually have the human capital to manage that much money. Otherwise, you’d be better off playing a game that offers a more human maximum payoff.
Big prize lotto’s prize is too big & odds of winning too small. Anything more than a few bucks bet is just throwing money away, might as well just write a check to the state.
The difference between betting a $1 and $150 is so small your human brain can’t measure it. Why should anyone pay $149 for an immeasurably small increase in your odds of winning?
Keno feels like a better game when you play it, but that is because it is a hybrid bet. You are making about 6 bets, some of which routinely pay off small amounts and a few that are lousy odds compared to the other available games.
Keno is entertaining only because some keno bets are worse than others and it takes some computing power to rank them. But once you are done ranking, you’d be better off playing Pick 3, or if in DC or Maryland, Racetrax.
Think of it this way: if someone asked you if you wanted to bet $1 for the possibility of winning $5, you’d say, “I don’t have the time to be bothered”. But we play keno and win $5 and think we’re doing something right because we got some positive feedback. It completely masks that Keno’s big prize of $50,0000 has a odds of like 1 in 8 million, worse than/as bad big prize Lotto games.
Pick three is the simplest game to make a bet that has a human scale. Bet 100 on 1 to 1000 odds to win $50000. That is enough to pay off a car, a down payment on a house, a semester or two at college, or enough to pay for a fraction of end-of-life cancer care.
If you lose, just consider that your Maryland State tax bill was $100 higher.
If you are in a state like Massachusetts, they have parimutuel betting. I suspect this means if you play unpopular numbers, you will maximize the odds of winning the highest possible payout.
Racetrax is like Pick 3, except you need to look up in a complicated table which bet is the equivalent of a 1 in 1000 bet. Once you find the bet at the odds you like, the payout rate is higher than in pick 3, so you’d to win 50,000 you’d only need.
Racetrax (and horse racing in general) makes it easy to make combo-bets. Don’t do it- you’ll turn a good game into Keno- a combo bet where some of the bets pay off, but your odds of winning the big ticket prize is minimized.
I like Racetrax for two reasons:
- You can pick the odds you like – you want a 1 in 2000 bet? You can find it. You can’t do that with pick 3.
- It is a substitute for gambling on live horses. Most animal husbandry involves more slaughter than you’d guess, so betting on digital horses involves less animal exploitation. [That said, I don't have any data-- it could be a complement, i.e. people who enjoy betting on digital horse might move on to betting on live horse races]