Lottery Statistics – How the Hotspot Effect Affects the Lottery


A public lottery is a game where people try to win prizes based on the drawing of lots. The earliest recorded lotteries are from the Low Countries in the 15th century, where towns held them to raise money for town fortifications and to help the poor. The word comes from the Middle Dutch noun lot, which means ‘fate’ or ‘chance’.

While some critics claim that lotteries are a form of hidden tax, others say that the entertainment value and other non-monetary benefits of playing a lottery make it a rational decision for individual players. It is also argued that winnings are paid out in a time-varying manner, which can be beneficial for winners who may prefer annuity payments or be subject to income taxes, which could reduce the expected utility of a lump sum.

Many, but not all, lottery commissions publish detailed statistics after each lottery draw. This can help inform the design of future lotteries, and reveal whether the existing lottery is fair or not. One important statistic is the distribution of positions awarded for each application. A truly unbiased lottery would see each position awarded to different applications a similar number of times. However, if the lottery is not random, some application rows will be awarded positions more often than others. This is what is known as the hotspot effect.