The lottery is a game in which numbers are drawn to determine winners. A person who plays the lottery can win a prize of any amount, from cash to goods and services. The odds of winning vary depending on the game, but they always tend to be low. To improve your chances of winning, try playing a smaller lottery game with less participants, like a state pick-3. This way, there are fewer combinations of numbers and you’ll have a better chance of hitting the jackpot.

There is an ugly underbelly to the lottery. For one thing, it dangles the promise of instant wealth in an age of inequality and limited social mobility. It’s a form of gambling, and many people play it because they want to win. Then there’s the message lotteries send, which is that if you buy a ticket, even though you might lose, you should feel good because it raises money for the state. That’s a misguided belief, because it ignores the fact that states spend far more on things that help people than they do on the lottery.

Lotteries are common in the United States and other countries, where they are usually run by a government agency. In the past, private lotteries were also widespread, especially in the 17th and 18th centuries. These were used for a variety of purposes, including raising money to fight the American Revolution and building colleges such as Harvard, Dartmouth, and Yale. They were a popular and relatively painless method of taxation in comparison to levying property taxes.

In addition to generating revenue for public programs, lotteries can be used as a means of awarding goods and services to select individuals. This can include everything from units in a subsidized housing development to kindergarten placements at a high-quality public school. A lottery can also be used to award scholarships for a particular field of study.

The word “lottery” dates back to the early 15th century, when it was used to describe an arrangement for drawing lots to determine a winner. It may have come from Middle Dutch loterie, which itself was a calque on Old Dutch hlot, or from French loterie, which itself came from Loterje, the name of the Dutch lottery.

Although Richard’s life may seem enviable now, it wasn’t all that great before the lottery. His life was pretty boring, he says. “But it feels different when you’re sitting on a few extra zeroes.” His secret to his success is that there’s no magic, and winning the lottery is just basic math and logic. And if you’re smart, it can be done. Just remember to choose the right numbers, and don’t overthink it. It’s not going to be easy, but it’s worth a shot. Hopefully, you’ll be the next big lottery winner! This article originally appeared in the July 27, 2018, issue of Fortune.