The lottery is one of the most popular forms of gambling in the United States, drawing in billions of dollars a year. But the odds of winning are low, and for many people it’s more about a wish than a reality. Some even believe that winning the lottery will help them escape poverty, and it’s true that a handful of people do make big money playing the game. But the rest of us end up subsidizing a small group of winners and a huge number of losers.

In the early days of colonial America, lotteries played an important role in raising funds for private and public projects. Roads, libraries, colleges, canals, and bridges were all financed with lottery proceeds. The Continental Congress also used lotteries to finance the colonial army. In fact, Alexander Hamilton argued that lotteries were a more effective way to raise taxes than directly asking people to contribute to state coffers.

But because lotteries are not as transparent as a direct tax, they don’t get the same public scrutiny. As a result, the lion’s share of ticket sales go toward prize money and less to state coffers, which are intended to fund things like education. And that can be problematic because many of the people who buy tickets are economically disadvantaged, the same people who may not have the resources to stick to a budget and trim their spending.

As a result, some critics argue that state-sponsored lotteries are actually just another form of hidden taxation, preying on poorer families who can least afford to lose their hard-earned cash. Others point out that the vast majority of players—around 90 percent—are regulars, and that they’re the ones who are making the biggest profits for lottery operators.

A recent article in the Huffington Post tells the story of a retired couple who found a way to beat the system. Their tactic: buying thousands of tickets a week, and only purchasing those with “singletons”—a single digit that appears only once on the ticket. A group of these numbers will signal a winner about 60-90% of the time.

In addition, they’ve learned to avoid the high-roller tickets—the ones with all the special symbols—and focus instead on those with a higher percentage of winners. That’s because the most expensive tickets have the lowest odds of winning.

So next time you’re considering a Powerball purchase, remember that it takes at least two hours for the lottery officials to decide who will win. And don’t be tempted to think that your life is a lottery—it’s not, and you should spend your money on something more worthwhile. (These examples have been programmatically compiled from various online sources and are not necessarily representative of current usage.)