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How to Win the Lottery

All lotteries are games of chance. The numbers are drawn entirely at random, and no matter how much we might like to be able to influence Lady Luck to give us a bit of an edge, we simply can't. There are no secret play strategies that we can use to make our numbers come up, or make one of our lottery tickets any more likely to win than those of other players.

However, this doesn't mean that we can't amend our number-picking strategy to increase our chances of winning more money if our numbers do come up. Here are several tips that will help you to avoid sharing the jackpot with too many other people if and when you do happen to strike it lucky...

  1. Forget relying exclusively on birthdays and anniversaries. The number of people who do this is truly excessive, and should all six lottery numbers happen to lie between 1 and 31 (the maximum number of days in a month) you will probably end up sharing your jackpot with so many players that you won't be happy unless you plan on forming a football team. Instead, make sure you always play at least one number which is 32 or higher.

  2. Choose your games wisely. Winning a 1 million jackpot is nice, but winning a 2 million jackpot is arguably twice as good. Playing mostly when the estimated jackpot is above 5 million will mean that you could still become a millionaire even if you end up sharing the top prize sharing with four other winners.

  3. Don't think that you're the only person who chooses their numbers according to patterns or what people perceive as probabilities. Selections such as 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12 or 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46 are not as uncommon as most players think, and if such a sequence ever came up (it's just as likely a combination as any other, statistically speaking) you would probably find that your share of the pot is surprisingly small. The only system worth having in this respect is not to have a system at all.

  4. Following on from the previous tip, if you keep track of so-called "hot" and "cold" numbers with a view to playing or avoiding one or the other, bear in mind that thousands of other players are doing exactly the same. There is no such thing as a "hot" or "cold" number, and should they all ever come up at the same time, they wouldn't be worth having anyway, such is the interest in this mythical pattern.

  5. The best possible way to increase the odds of winning a larger slice of the jackpot is to pick your numbers entirely at random. And note that we said entirely at random. Many people try to randomly complete a ticket slip, then notice that they haven't picked any number lower than 20, and choose one accordingly. That isn't truly random. The only way you can guarantee random numbers is to allow the lottery company to select your numbers for you. For example, you can buy a Lucky Dip ticket when playing the UK Lotto.

We can't guarantee that you will win by heeding the advice here, but we are willing to bet that the tips presented will help you to get a bigger slice of whatever jackpot you might happen to be entitled to.

The chances of winning a lottery jackpot are principally determined by several factors: the count of possible numbers, the count of winning numbers drawn, whether or not order is significant and whether drawn numbers are returned for the possibility of further drawing.

In a typical 6 from 49 lotto, 6 numbers are drawn from 49 and if the 6 numbers on a ticket match the numbers drawn, the ticket holder is a jackpot winner - this is true regardless of the order in which the numbers are drawn. The odds of being the jackpot winner are approximately 1 in 14 million (13,983,816 to be exact). The derivation of this result (and other winning scores) is shown in the Lottery mathematics article. To put these odds in context, suppose one buys one lottery ticket per week. 13,983,816 weeks is roughly 269,000 years; In the quarter-million years of play, one would only expect to win the jackpot once.

The odds of winning any actual lottery can vary widely depending on lottery design. "Mega Millions" is a very popular multi-state lottery in the United States which is known for jackpots that grow very large from time to time. This attractive feature is made possible simply by designing the game to be extremely difficult to win: 1 chance in 175,711,536. That's over twelve times smaller than the example above. Mega Millions players also pick six numbers, but two different "bags" are used. The first five numbers come from one bag that contains numbers from 1 to 56. The sixth number -- the "Mega Ball number" -- comes from the second bag, which contains numbers from 1 to 46. To win a Mega Millions jackpot, a player's five regular numbers must match the five regular numbers drawn and the Mega Ball number must match the Mega Ball number drawn. In other words, it is not good enough to pick 10, 18, 25, 33, 42 / 7 when the drawing is 7, 10, 25, 33, 42 / 18. Even though the player picked all the right numbers, the Mega Ball number at the end of the ticket doesn't match the one drawn, so the ticket would be credited with matching only four numbers (10, 25, 33, 42).

Most lotteries give lesser prizes for matching just some of the winning numbers. The Mega Millions game described above is an extreme case, giving a very small payout (US$2) even if a player matches only the Mega Ball number at the end of your ticket. Matching more numbers, the payout goes up. Although none of these additional prizes affect the chances of winning the jackpot, they do improve the odds of winning something and therefore add a little to the value of the ticket. In most lotteries, if a large amount of smaller prizes are awarded, the jackpot will be reduced, in a similar manner that if the jackpot is divided if mulitiple players have tickets with all the winning numbers.

In the UK National Lottery the smallest prize is 10 for matching three balls. There exists a Wheeling Challenge to create the smallest set of tickets to cover enough combinations to ensure that any 6 numbers drawn will match against at least 3 numbers on at least one of the tickets. The current record is 163 tickets.

The expected value of lottery bets is often notably bad. In the United States, an expected value of -50% is not atypical.