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# In lotteries, lucky numbers will only win you less

Oct 9, 2015, 10:59 am (38 comments)

It goes without saying the chance of winning the lottery is minuscule. But if you play the numbers, you should know that certain tactics commonly used to make picks reduce the likelihood of collecting the maximum payout.

Grab a pencil, and we'll try it out.

Let's say a \$1 lottery ticket allows you to choose six numbers between 1 and 75. Write down your choices and make a mental note regarding the significance of each one.

If you are like many people, you picked numbers with personal meaning. Perhaps you jotted down a birthday or an anniversary. Possibly you threw in a 7 or some other lucky number. Or maybe you went for a pattern like 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.

Those numbers may feel more satisfying than a computer-generated selection, but they are no more likely to win.

And they are less likely to give you that "I'm quitting and moving to Maui" payday you may dream about if other people, using similar strategies, choose the same numbers and get a cut of the jackpot.

"You can spend your whole life playing 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and you'll have the same chance of winning as someone who played 1, 12, 25, 36, 38, 41," said Philip J. Cook, co-author of Selling Hope: State Lotteries in America and a professor of public policy, economics and sociology at Duke University. "It does not matter in terms of winning. It matters in terms of dividing the pot."

Any combination of numbers is equally likely to win, but people tend to choose some numbers and combinations more frequently than others, increasing the likelihood that different people will end up with the same picks.

The effect was documented recently by researchers in the Netherlands and the U.K. who examined more than 5 million number combinations played in the Dutch Lotto during 2½ years to test the players' preferences.

In the Dutch game, players select six numbers between 1 and 45 plus one of six colors. The chances of winning the jackpot, or a share of it, are about 1 in 49 million. The data used by the researchers included the ticket holders' birth date and four digits of their postal code.

If the players had picked randomly, the researchers expected each number to be chosen 13.3% of the time. But that proportion was exceeded by all personal numbers, and day of birth, which was chosen 21.03% of the time, was the most popular.

"These are numbers that follow you through life," said Tong V. Wang, a doctoral student at Erasmus University in Rotterdam and one of the researchers. "You might pick these numbers more frequently. That's indeed what we find."

Other patterns also emerged. Players preferred numbers that appeared in the middle of the lottery form to those on the edges. Visual patterns, such as strings of numbers that ran diagonally across the form, were popular, as were mathematical patterns—including 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, which was the third most popular combination based on the number of players who chose it. Within the period the researchers studied, it was selected 1,944 times by 670 different people.

The researchers found numbers that were "primed" in the players' memory also were chosen frequently. For example, the six numbers that appear in the Dutch game's logo — 2, 6, 15, 24, 37, 45 — were chosen 2,873 times by 650 different players.

While choosing particular numbers doesn't improve a player's chances of winning the lottery, and could reduce the amount of money a winner collects, all modern lottery games allow, and encourage, players to make their own picks.

"It distracts people from the pure chance element," Dr. Cook said. "People act as if they can improve their odds of winning through their insight or technique, but there is no way to improve your odds if the game is, as advertised, purely random."

Winning any amount may satisfy some players. But if the aim is to vie for the maximum payout, the best strategy is to let the lottery's computer generate a random combination of numbers that is less likely to be duplicated by lots of other players.

"An important determinant in playing is the size of the jackpot," said Martijn J. van denAssem, a professor of finance at the University of Amsterdam and another of the researchers. "If they knew they would have to share, it will become less appealing."

And sometimes, the effect is extreme.

The combination 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42, a recurring string that appeared in the American television series "Lost," was played more than any other in the Dutch study, a total of 3,190 times by 656 people.

It's popular in the U.S. as well — and in 2011, four of the numbers hit in the Mega Millions lottery. More than 40,000 people had played the winning combination, and each one walked away with a slice of the multimillion-dollar prize.

It amounted to \$150 per person.

But when Julie Leach of Michigan won \$310.5 million in the Powerball lottery on Sept. 30, she was the only person playing the numbers 21, 39, 40, 55, 59 and Powerball number 17.

That winning combination was an "easy pick" randomly generated by the computer at her local Shell gas station. The numbers were meaningless. But they were worth a fortune.

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Wall Street Journal

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Zebekyia

It's popular in the U.S. as well — and in 2011, four of the numbers hit in the Mega Millions lottery. More than 40,000 people had played the winning combination, and each one walked away with a slice of the multimillion-dollar prize.

This is incorrect.  4/5 pays a set amount not part of a multimillion dollar jackpot.  The person who wrote this article seems like they don't know how to play the games, but it does state that people playing birthdays have a higher chance of splitting the jackpot.  Also, playing 1,2,3,4,5,6 you will never win.  Certain combinations will never happen due to the fact of how the balls enter the machine and the physics of the machine itself.

Anyway this article could be summarized to say, "You have a higher chance of splitting Jackpots if you play birthdays or meaningful numbers as they are all likely lower and there's a higher mathematical chance that someone also played the same birthday numbers.

Todd

Quote: Originally posted by Zebekyia on Oct 9, 2015

It's popular in the U.S. as well — and in 2011, four of the numbers hit in the Mega Millions lottery. More than 40,000 people had played the winning combination, and each one walked away with a slice of the multimillion-dollar prize.

This is incorrect.  4/5 pays a set amount not part of a multimillion dollar jackpot.  The person who wrote this article seems like they don't know how to play the games, but it does state that people playing birthdays have a higher chance of splitting the jackpot.  Also, playing 1,2,3,4,5,6 you will never win.  Certain combinations will never happen due to the fact of how the balls enter the machine and the physics of the machine itself.

Anyway this article could be summarized to say, "You have a higher chance of splitting Jackpots if you play birthdays or meaningful numbers as they are all likely lower and there's a higher mathematical chance that someone also played the same birthday numbers.

Regarding your statement, "Also, playing 1,2,3,4,5,6 you will never win.  Certain combinations will never happen due to the fact of how the balls enter the machine and the physics of the machine itself."

That is totally wrong.  You might have a personal opinion that 1,2,3,4,5,6 can never win, but factually you are wrong.  There is nothing about the way the balls are loaded or the physics of the machine that would cause that combination -- or any other combination -- to not be selected.

Hopefully nobody reads your statement and bases their play selections on it.

hearsetrax

Quote: Originally posted by Todd on Oct 9, 2015

Regarding your statement, "Also, playing 1,2,3,4,5,6 you will never win.  Certain combinations will never happen due to the fact of how the balls enter the machine and the physics of the machine itself."

That is totally wrong.  You might have a personal opinion that 1,2,3,4,5,6 can never win, but factually you are wrong.  There is nothing about the way the balls are loaded or the physics of the machine that would cause that combination -- or any other combination -- to not be selected.

Hopefully nobody reads your statement and bases their play selections on it.

I still stand by a comment I made a while back

bigbear29

I personally would not play 1,2,3,4,5,6, I don't know if they would ever come up, I think the odds of that happening is very high.  So, if a person has time on their side go and play that combination.  It is hard enough to win playing regular combinations.

cbr\$

Computer - generated quick pick do have a up side. I prefer a selection of both my own & theirs. I can believe more people choose numbers important to them.

savagegoose

given a long enough time, 1 2 3 4 5 6 will be drawn in some draw, go grab 6 dice and try to get  ea number on 1 dice with just one throw ea. If you hhave ever played yahtzee its not impossible. it just doesnt happen every game.

Coin Toss

Quote: Originally posted by bigbear29 on Oct 9, 2015

I personally would not play 1,2,3,4,5,6, I don't know if they would ever come up, I think the odds of that happening is very high.  So, if a person has time on their side go and play that combination.  It is hard enough to win playing regular combinations.

If - or when - 1  2  3  4  5  6  were to hit it would probably set a record for how many ways it would be split.

noise-gate

The Game in Random- if it was not, people would be winning each & every time and the game as we know it would fold.There is no such thing as" Lucky Numbers"- sure they are for you, should you win, but overall,  every ticket has as much chance as another. I have be saying that for years..but has anyone been listening? Consider this, prior to Gloria " cutting in line" there were untold millions of individual players along  with folks in lottery pools getting their ducks in a row * meself included hoping to cash in- but a 84 year old gets the Pot of Gold. As someone's signature reads " Pick your own losers."..or winners for that matter.

GoogilyMoogily

Quote: Originally posted by Zebekyia on Oct 9, 2015

It's popular in the U.S. as well — and in 2011, four of the numbers hit in the Mega Millions lottery. More than 40,000 people had played the winning combination, and each one walked away with a slice of the multimillion-dollar prize.

This is incorrect.  4/5 pays a set amount not part of a multimillion dollar jackpot.  The person who wrote this article seems like they don't know how to play the games, but it does state that people playing birthdays have a higher chance of splitting the jackpot.  Also, playing 1,2,3,4,5,6 you will never win.  Certain combinations will never happen due to the fact of how the balls enter the machine and the physics of the machine itself.

Anyway this article could be summarized to say, "You have a higher chance of splitting Jackpots if you play birthdays or meaningful numbers as they are all likely lower and there's a higher mathematical chance that someone also played the same birthday numbers.

I often thought about the physics of the machine and started to build a fairly complicated physics simulator in Blender, with more than a little help from Matlab and Ansys.  It was more fun than function.  If anything, a truly RNG based on geometry and physics rather than suspect calculations, clock times, etc.  Nevertheless, I have learned that the balls (for MM) are loaded randomly.  Then, the non-linear physics of balls deforming slightly as they bump and the wildness of the airflows in the tumble chamber make it all but impossible to predict any outcome with certainty.  The odds of every combination are exactly the same.  Patterns, calendar days (prevalence on numbers 1-31 being played) and other lucky numbers are absolutely unknown to random chaos.  You are correct in that if people tend to play numbers near to each other there is a chance of sharing the pot.  I do like very big numbers.  The degrees of freedom of motion for all the balls, and fairly complicated meshes to simulate the non-linear action/reaction between the (round enough) balls, etc. etc. etc. would take my tiny laptop trillions of years to solve one revolution of the tumble chamber.  Isn't physics fun?  I think so!

TheGameGrl

The irony in qp's is that on various occasions the very numbers I would have picked, showed up on the QP ticket, So really be it man or machine...the odds remain the same. You either win or you don't. Not much math to that final analysis.

The other part is the allocation of number sets given to state terminals....That too plays a part....

Will be bias on the fact that ball drawn games tend to give you the visual whereas with Computers...its all behind the curtain and rarely disputable should a glitch be sited.

music*

Thank You Todd.  I will continue to use the Quick Pick Generator you have provided for us. It is found at the Quick Links on the left side of the Home page. Find Quick Picks.

You offer a better RNG then the State's offer. And in the convenience of our home.

I now know how difficult it is to change numbers from your favorites. I think "How would I feel if my numbers came up and I did not play them?"   I am doing both, LP's RNG and my own picks. I need some courage to discontinue my favorites.

Good Luck to all LP members !

myturn

Actually, we all win! Even people who don't play win! 'How so?', one may ask. We all benefit from the revenue raised, which is the point of lotteries.

mikeintexas

Quote: Originally posted by Todd on Oct 9, 2015

Regarding your statement, "Also, playing 1,2,3,4,5,6 you will never win.  Certain combinations will never happen due to the fact of how the balls enter the machine and the physics of the machine itself."

That is totally wrong.  You might have a personal opinion that 1,2,3,4,5,6 can never win, but factually you are wrong.  There is nothing about the way the balls are loaded or the physics of the machine that would cause that combination -- or any other combination -- to not be selected.

Hopefully nobody reads your statement and bases their play selections on it.

I cannot find the news story about it on the 'net, only posts in this forum (by me) and in other forums, but not long after Texas began their lottery, there was a guy in S. Texas who bought five lines on a ticket and two of the QP lines were the same.  They did a segment about it on the Amarillo news, bringing in some math professor who showed his calculations that the odds of that happening were virtually the same as winning the lottery. (with a tiny bit of difference since the man had bought five lines)

Artist77