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Math Science

Patterns in Lottery Numbers 563

Posted by Zonk
from the you're-still-advised-against-playing dept.
markmcb writes "Most everyone is familiar with the concept of the lottery, i.e., random numbers are selected and people guess what they will be for a cash prize. But how random are the numbers? Matt Vea has conducted a pattern analysis of the MegaMillions lottery, which recently offered a sum of $370M (USD) to the winner. Matt shows that the lottery isn't as random as it may seem and that there are 'better' choices than others to be made when selecting numbers. From the article, 'A single dollar in MegaMillions purchases a 1 in 175,711,536 chance of landing the jackpot ... a player stands a mildly better chance of winning a partial prize through the selection of weighted numbers.'" Includes some excellent charts of his analysis.
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Patterns in Lottery Numbers

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  • Not much in the way of conclusions...

    "Interesting as these trends may be, they will not assist in making the odds of winning the MegaMillions lottery any better if the system is truly fair and random. However, in the event there is some peculiar factor skewing the ball selection such that any of these trends continue, a player stands a mildly better chance of winning a partial prize through the selection of weighted numbers."
    • Re:Conclusions... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Hatta (162192) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @03:27PM (#21200879) Journal
      Of course you can't conclude much from this analysis. In any random distribution you're going to see random statistical fluctuations causing some clustering. Some numbers will get picked more than you'd predict by chance, just by chance. And necessarily some numbers will be picked less often than you'd predict by chance. The upside of this is that you can predict the extent of this clustering and compare that to the actual data to see if it's rigged.
      • Re:Conclusions... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Maxo-Texas (864189) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @03:51PM (#21201275)
        Exactly, a couple years back at vegas, the roulette wheel spun black 13 times in a row.

        Thats like 1/.48^13th.

        Random things.. happen.

        Randomly- some poor investing sod out there has made every choice correctly and been hammered by random market events.

        Likewise- some lucky fool (that thinks he is brilliant) has picked google or tasr or crox on some non-logical basis and won big.

        That's why you use Mutual Funds and ETF's. You get average performance. You lose the home runs, but you also lose the strike-outs.

        • Re:Conclusions... (Score:5, Insightful)

          by joranbelar (567325) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @04:32PM (#21202065) Homepage

          Exactly, a couple years back at vegas, the roulette wheel spun black 13 times in a row.

          Thats like 1/48^13.

          Random things.. happen.

          And guess what? Last night in Vegas, the roulette wheel spun this:

          Red, Black, Black, Red, Black, Red, Red, Black, Red, Red, Red, Black, Red.

          That's like 1/.48^13th.

          A lot of people would be better off in understanding "randomness" if they would just realize that these two situations have exactly the same probability. Humans just assign more "meaning" to certain sequences than others.
          • by A nonymous Coward (7548) * on Thursday November 01, 2007 @05:16PM (#21202751)
            I was quite amused when I first heard of it. I d onot know if it has ever actually been done, however.

            Pick some random stock, send email to 2*10 suckers that it will go up, and to an equal number of suckers that it will go down.

            Whichever direction it moves, divide that batch of suckers in two, pick some other random stock, send half email taht it will go up and half email that it goes down.

            Repeat until you have only a few suckers left. They will see you as a genius who has correctly predicted the last {n} stock moves correctly. It may be the final sucker, or the last 2, or 4, etc.

            Now tout a stock you have just bought and make some money!
            • Homer: Denver just won the ballgame!

              Lisa: Oh, the Broncos won?

              Homer: Why didn't I bet on them like Professor Pigskin told me to?

              Lisa: Who's Professor Pigskin?

              Homer: (Holding Professor Pignskin pamplet) He's a pig who can predict football winners in advance!

              Lisa: How is that possible?

              Homer: Because he's got something no gambler's ever had: a system! I've gotten the pamphlet four weeks in a row, and every time, the pick-of-the-week has been right on the money.

              Lisa: Ah... I get it. Every week, th

  • by WillAffleckUW (858324) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @03:15PM (#21200693) Homepage Journal
    Most lotteries (as opposed to raffles) have less than half the money spent by lottery ticket buyers going into the payout pool.

    You're already losing by buying the ticket.
    • by Red Flayer (890720) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @03:18PM (#21200743) Journal

      You're already losing by buying the ticket.
      From an arithmetical perspective, yes. From a more subjective standpoint, no.

      Instead of using absolute dollar figures for your analysis, you should use lifestyle impact.

      e.g. One dollar a week == no lifestyle impact; $370MM payout == off the charts lifestyle impact.

      This is why people will continue to play the lottery, even if mathematically it's a poor choice.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by WillAffleckUW (858324)
        No, not just statistical, but from life.

        I have participated in both lotteries (and have won up to $1000 in them, and made more than I ever spent).

        I have also participated in raffles - and won similar payouts.

        As to the lifestyle impact, it is a provable truism that most maximum payout winners do not actually improve their lives.

        It's like when I got an inheritance - the best thing you can do with that is max out your retirement funds and pay off debt, and then put much of the rest in paying down your mortgage
        • by eln (21727)

          As to the lifestyle impact, it is a provable truism that most maximum payout winners do not actually improve their lives.
          He didn't say off the charts happiness, he said off the charts lifestyle impact. You have to admit that spending 1 dollar a week has less of an impact (good or bad) on someone's lifestyle than getting $370 million at once does (again, good or bad).
        • by pluther (647209)

          e.g. One dollar a week == no lifestyle impact; $370MM payout == off the charts lifestyle impact.

          As to the lifestyle impact, it is a provable truism that most maximum payout winners do not actually improve their lives.

          I believe that what you say is true.

          But, I would further suggest that anybody who gets a $370 Million payout and has anything less than an off the charts lifestyle impact is a complete moron with no imagination.

        • by Ced_Ex (789138) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @04:41PM (#21202225)
          Do you know what that dollar used for a lottery ticket buys you?

          Basically it buys you a dream, and an opportunity to share your dreams with your friends/co-workers who are in on the ticket. Really no different from buying a piece of art for a conversation piece.

          At work, we buy lottery tickets together when the jackpot is huge, and then we get to talk about the things we'd do if we won, which in effect buys me a mental vacation from the reality of having to work for a living. For a dollar every now and then, it's worth it. Besides, a losing ticket just buys social assistance projects where I'm from anyways, so it's not really a big loss.
      • by king-manic (409855) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @03:24PM (#21200839)

        Instead of using absolute dollar figures for your analysis, you should use lifestyle impact.

        e.g. One dollar a week == no lifestyle impact; $370MM payout == off the charts lifestyle impact.
        Also, for 1 dollar a week you are buying a mild emotional high when checking the numbers and a mild emotional low when you find out that math pwned you again.
        • by geekoid (135745)
          Except those of us who do understand math don't have the matching low because we already had a pretty darn good idea we woldn't win. But we have fun with it, so I wouldn't say we lost a dollar.
          • by IgLou (732042) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @04:12PM (#21201687)
            Yeah but I still hate how smug math is for pwning me in the first place, even when I win! Take this unnofficial transcript between math and I.

            Lou - Look Math! I won 100 bucks on the lotto!
            Math - *scowling* How much did you spend on that ticket?
            Lou - Well, uh 10 bucks so it's like I made $10 dollars on ever dollar I spent!
            Math - *smiling evilly* Oh really? Was that the only ticket you bought this week?
            Lou - Well no, but...
            Math - AND... did you win on any of those tickets? How much did you spend altogether this week?
            Lou - Well no but it was only another 10 so it's like I made 5 on...
            Math - Please, spare me. How much have you spent this month?
            Lou - Uh 80 but...
            Math - and won?
            Lou - with this it would be 120.
            Math - Aha! You're return is more like .50 cents on the dollar!
            Lou - But overall...
            Math - Lies! Statistically this year you've lost more money than you gained!
            Lou - It was disposable income!!
            Math - How much would that have made long term investments!
            Lou - I don't know!
            Math - Or how much you would have saved on your mortgage!
            Lou - I don't know, I don't know!
            Math - Fool, now go make me a one minute egg.
            Lou - Fine, right after I put some money in a stocks so we can retire.
            Math - Idiot, why bother? You have a higher probability of making money on the stock market by random selection. A monkey can make money on the stock market better than you!
            Lou - *sobbing uncontrollably* I hate you! I hate you!
            Math - Wait till he hears about his income tax. Muhahahaha!

            I may have had to improvise some parts but that's fairly accurate.
        • by gEvil (beta) (945888) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @03:53PM (#21201317)
          Also, for 1 dollar a week you are buying a mild emotional high when checking the numbers and a mild emotional low when you find out that math pwned you again.

          Yes, but for less than one dollar a day (that's less than the cost of a cup of coffee), you can help change a child's life. Imagine the feeling of joy you'll get when you receive a personalized card in the mail from the child you sponsor. Call the number on your screen right now to make a donation.
          • by TheSkyIsPurple (901118) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @04:02PM (#21201481)
            That's why I just send them lottery tickets =-)

            Figure there's a chance I'll make one really happy kid. Why people hate making kids really happy so much?
            • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

              And yet how will you feel when you get that handwritten note from the child thanking you for the $130 million that you could have had if you had kept the ticket instead of sending it to them?
          • by Scrameustache (459504) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @04:44PM (#21202279) Homepage Journal

            Also, for 1 dollar a week you are buying a mild emotional high when checking the numbers and a mild emotional low when you find out that math pwned you again.

            Yes, but for less than one dollar a day (that's less than the cost of a cup of coffee), you can help change a child's life. Imagine the feeling of joy you'll get when you receive a personalized card in the mail from the child you sponsor. Call the number on your screen right now to make a donation.
            My dad's old boss went to visit his sponsored child for his vacation once.
            Turned out the kid had been dead for years. Someone kept collecting the money, though, and wrote letters.
    • by cromar (1103585)
      You're already losing by buying the ticket.

      No, not really. Your state is getting paid revenue (supposedly for education around here - not always). Also, you are getting a chance to win the Jackpot...
      • by Yath (6378)
        If you believe the state needs more of your money, it would be at least twice as efficient to just send them a check. Buying lottery tickets is less efficient because your money will be supporting the lottery apparatus - and because about 50% of it will be going to winner payouts.
      • How much is actually going to the causes?(hell, in PA the cause is "older Pennsylvanians", that outta teach the youth vote :P) I wish I could find the study, but in some cases less than 25% actually gets to where it's going. Most of the rest of the money is for payouts and, at least in PA, for massive amounts of advertising and massive salaries for those involved in organizing the lottery. You are probably better off just donating half the money you would have spent on the lottery to the charity of your
        • by cromar (1103585)
          According to their website [molottery.com]:

          Approximately 27.1 cents of every dollar spent on the Missouri Lottery benefits Missouri's education programs; 63 cents goes back to players as prizes, 3.8 cents is used for administrative costs and 6.1 cents goes to retailers in the form of commissions, incentives and bonuses. In all, more than 96 cents of every dollar stays in Missouri!

          I remember there was some sort of scandal 5 or 6 years ago, but I can't find any info on it at the moment...
      • by Ungrounded Lightning (62228) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @03:36PM (#21201025) Journal
        You're already losing by buying the ticket.

        No, not really. Your state is getting paid revenue (supposedly for education around here - not always).


        Which is just the excuse they used to get it through.

        But money is the ultimate fungible commodity. (That's its whole purpose, after all.) Any amount that the lottery puts into the schools the state government can neglect to put in when they set the next budget. So the effect is that the lottery money goes to the pet projects of the legislature (in a roundabout-on-paper fashion).

        Also, you are getting a chance to win the Jackpot...

        Yep.

        For the smaller ones the payoff is small enough to not matter. Further, the odds are short enough and the players play often enough that the payoff quickly approaches the expectation - usually $0.50 for every $1.00 played. (They take your money and give half of it back in chunks.)

        For the big jackpots the odds are typically in the ballpark of being hit by lightning 10 times. And while the payoff typically has a "half the pot" number, it's paid out over a long enough period that you're just getting the INTEREST on the payoff, while the state keeps the principal, making the effective value much lower. (In some cases you have the option to select getting a much lower payout right away, which proves the point...) And then the federal government takes a cut. So the expectation is 'WAY less than $.50 out for every $1.00 in.

        Lotteries are a voluntary tax on innumeracy (mathematical illiteracy).

    • less than half the money spent by lottery ticket buyers going into the payout pool. You're already losing by buying the ticket.
      No, no, no. You clearly haven't understood how it works. See, the prize pool isn't divided up equally among all the players. Most will in fact get none, but a few will get quite a lot (it depends in some way on what numbers come up compared with the numbers the players chose). People play because they want to be in that happy few.
    • by travdaddy (527149)
      You're already losing by buying the ticket.

      This is pedantic BUT sometimes (rarely) the lottery's jackpot will grow big enough that you aren't already losing, and you actually have good odds.

      Example: the chances of winning could be 1 in 107 million but the jackpot has unexpectedly grown to 150 million. Hypothetically, you could buy all 107 million tickets and still win money.
      • by JohnFluxx (413620)
        I wonder if anyone has actually done that
      • This is pedantic BUT sometimes (rarely) the lottery's jackpot will grow big enough that you aren't already losing, and you actually have good odds.

        But in calculating the odds you have to include more than the payout ratio:
        - Payout is over time, lowering the effective value of the money.
        - Even if exempt from state taxes, payouts are subject to federal tax.

        You need a dollar value expectation FAR more than 1:1 for the actual expectation to exceed 1:1. But this pretty much never happens. The s
    • by tompaulco (629533)
      You're already losing by buying the ticket.
      The multi-state Powerball odds of winning the jackpot is 1 in 146,107,962. I used to figure that their one time payout number was something like half the prize total, so if you wanted a $1 per $1 expected return, you should only buy the tickets when the jackpot is over $290 million. But that is assuming a single winner.
      Now, most likely, when you start to get that big of a jackpot, a lot more people will play, so you end up usually having on average about 2 winne
  • by RandoX (828285) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @03:17PM (#21200727)
    4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42.
  • Conclusion: (Score:2, Informative)

    by wesborgmandvm (893569)
    Interesting as these trends may be, they will not assist in making the odds of winning the MegaMillions lottery any better if the system is truly fair and random. However, in the event there is some peculiar factor skewing the ball selection such that any of these trends continue, a player stands a mildly better chance of winning a partial prize through the selection of weighted numbers.
  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <[moc.liamg] [ta] [nhojovadle]> on Thursday November 01, 2007 @03:20PM (#21200767) Journal
    How does the outcome of thousands of already drawn balls assure that same frequency will continue to occur?

    These differences aren't that compelling. To me I would say, "Congratulations, you have found some deviation from equal frequency for all balls. But this would happen in any instance of drawing these balls."

    I'm concerned that this has been an exercise in deviation in pseudo random systems. The same could be done with a computer simulation and similar results would be found.

    I hate to say it but this study points out to me that the lottery is actually pretty much as close to random as it could get. In fact, the summary of the paper states that if there were some event to skew this, then you could achieve a small bonus:

    However, in the event there is some peculiar factor skewing the ball selection such that any of these trends continue, a player stands a mildly better chance of winning a partial prize through the selection of weighted numbers.
    However this peculiar factor can not only be identified but if it exists, it is highly unlikely it is anything even remotely observable.
  • Lottery vs. poker (Score:3, Interesting)

    by darjen (879890) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @03:21PM (#21200771)

    A single dollar in MegaMillions purchases a 1 in 175,711,536 chance of landing the jackpot ... a player stands a mildly better chance of winning a partial prize through the selection of weighted numbers.
    As an amateur poker player, I'd say I have a better chance of winning the world series of poker. There is absolutely no reason for the lottery to be the only form of legal gambling, while poker remains illegal. Other than the states want to maintain their monopoly on gambling. God forbid I should spend $30 on a tournament buy-in, while someone down the street buys 30 legal lottery tickets. Especially since I have a pretty good shot at making more than my $30 back.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by wile_e_wonka (934864)
      I think the reason is pretty obvious. The state keeps half the money people spend on lottery tickets (more than half according to another comment above--I don't actually know the exact percentage), whereas the private poker house doesn't give anything to the state. So yeah, you're right it's the states' desire to keep their stanglehold on gambling. Note that in Nevada, where gambling is legal, the stanglehold is just as strong. You didn't think the casinos kept all that money did you? Funny thing, it j
  • I think the submitter purposely wrote the summary to mislead. It is clear from their conclusions that they haven't done anything that is being claimed in the summary; they only suggest in the end that if there were some sort of advantage in selecting certain balls, someone could take advantage of that (seems obvious).
  • This assumes that no changes are made drawing over drawing. How would you be aware that such changes are made? For instance, what if a fan, stirrer, or the balls are switched out, as one can suppose does happen. As you are not aware of these changes, you are back where you started from. This also supposes that the auditors that are supposed to ensure that the results are random aren't doing their jobs by performing rigorous testing. In that way, the lottery commission is opening it up to lawsuits by pl
  • I wonder how much ANY random set of numbers would show patterns if one tried hard enough to find them.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by AmigaHeretic (991368)
      I wonder how much ANY person would see ghosts if one tried hard enough to find them at the Waverly Hills Sanatorium?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by myowntrueself (607117)
      Its not too hard.

      One method is to take each pair in the sequence as coordinates in a plane and plot them.

      Eg, you have a dripping tap. You take the time between drips as your number. Then two successive intervals get plotted on a plane and you can start finding a resulting pattern.

      I once did this with pseudo-random number generators as provided with various libraries.

      The results were interesting.

      Each different PRNG would produce a distinct pattern and the same pattern every single time regardless of whether
  • Fl. lottery... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by i.r.id10t (595143) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @03:22PM (#21200801)
    Fl. Lottery used to print which machine would be used for a particular drawing, and old drawing numbers - with machine that was used - in a nice column format (probably real easy to rip out of a web page, etc).

    Now I'm not a math guy, but I *know* that all 50whatever balls aren't identical. Should there be some (very) slight preference for a particular ball, or set of balls, over a series of draws over time? I seem to remember an article in a Dragon magazine about dice and using math to find out if yours had a preference for a particular number...
    • by greg1104 (461138)
      I seem to remember an article in a Dragon magazine about dice and using math to find out if yours had a preference for a particular number...

      That's "Be thy die ill-wrought?" in Dragon 78; it's also in the collection "The Dragon Compendium, Volume 1". The article talks about using the chi-square test in order to quantify your dice rolls. A similar article that pushes all the math to your computer is at Are my dice random? [godsmonsters.com].
    • There's a really good Straight Dope on the topic, but typically, they have several batches of numbers and several machines. Presumably, there are (very slight) biases for each machine and number set. Assuming they never get changed out, and that you know which machine and which set are used every time, and you can get a large enough sample, you probably could come up with a solution that would be better than randomizing the numbers. Possible, just highly unlikely.

      Plus, if the prize pool is 50%, then you'
  • So, where's the equation? I need to know so that I have a chance at winning my state's lottery. I'm a poor college student!

    Closest I got to winning the lotto jackpot here was with 4 numbers, out of 6.
  • by Ancient_Hacker (751168) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @03:25PM (#21200843)
    Yes, you will see patterns.

    And if you look up in the night sky, you'll see an archer, a bull, a big and a small dipper.

    What's your point?

  • by sm62704 (957197) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @03:27PM (#21200887) Journal
    One of the slogans for the Illinois lottery used to be "you can't win if you don't play", but I figured every time I didn't play, I won $1. Its both stupid and ironic that many of the same people bitching about taxes pay this voluntary tax!

    At the astronomical odds against winning, I figure my chances of finding a winning ticket on the ground are only marginally worse than my chances of buying a winning ticket. So rather than give extra money to the government so it will be funnelled to politically connected rich people, I just watch the ground.

    -mcgrew
    • by zerocool^ (112121) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @03:37PM (#21201041) Homepage Journal


      One of the slogans for the Illinois lottery used to be "you can't win if you don't play", but I figured every time I didn't play, I won $1. Its both stupid and ironic that many of the same people bitching about taxes pay this voluntary tax!

      At the astronomical odds against winning, I figure my chances of finding a winning ticket on the ground are only marginally worse than my chances of buying a winning ticket. So rather than give extra money to the government so it will be funnelled to politically connected rich people, I just watch the ground.


      I play the Mega Millions every time the numbers are drawn. We have a standing office pool with 4 of us, and we play 4 numbers every time the balls are dropped, the same 4 sets of numbers each time.

      What have we won? Well, one time we won $150. But aside from that, we know that the lotto money goes into the public school system. So, in effect, I'm donating $8 - $9 minus administrative fees to the school system every month.

      I'm ok with that.

      And on the off chance that I ever win the lotto, none of you will ever hear from my fat ass again.

      ~Wx
      • by wiggles (30088) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @04:05PM (#21201551)
        Umm, the money doesn't go into the public school fund, it goes into the general fund. They only tell you it goes into the school fund. What really happens is, for ever dollar the lottery collects, they put that dollar into the school fund, which means they don't have to allocate that dollar to the school system from the general fund. In the end, the schools don't get any more money, it's just more money the state legislators have to spend on pork barrel projects.
        • by Phat_Tony (661117) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @04:38PM (#21202179)
          Mod parent up. This is a common misunderstanding, or perhaps I should call it a government lie. It's Enron accounting.

          They try to encourage people to play the lottery by telling them the money all goes to schools. So they direct the whole of lottery income to the schools, on paper. But the school budget is planned in budget meetings, and the ammount the lottery brings in has no effect on school budgets. For every extra dollar brought in by the lottery, that's one less dollar of general fund money that goes to the schools, and one more dollar of total money in the government's general fund.

          They can write out the accounting anyway they like to and say, "see, these dollars went here," but dollars are fungible. At the end of the day, the acid test to see if it means anything to say "lottery money goes to schools" is to see what the marginal effect on school funding is of purchasing lottery tickets. That effect is 0.
      • I'm just saying. I don't care about $5/month, but if those guys win, and I'm still at this $@#%ing desk, that'll be bad.

        It's not gambling, it's "gloating ex-co-worker insurance."
      • by quokkapox (847798)
        Why not just contribute some time and/or money to your local public school system, and leave out the contributions to sustain a socially detrimental government program (legalized gambling)?
      • by AK Marc (707885)
        But aside from that, we know that the lotto money goes into the public school system.

        For every dollar that goes to the schools from the lottery, they take a dollar away from the general fund. More lottery income does not increase school funding. The school budget is set, and the funds are paid, it's just the buckets change. That last $ you put in went to the governor's dog's food dish, not to the schools.
    • Its both stupid and ironic that many of the same people bitching about taxes pay this voluntary tax!

      Why is that stupid and ironic? Lots of things become unacceptable when you make them involuntary.

  • Missing data (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Richard W.M. Jones (591125) <[rich] [at] [annexia.org]> on Thursday November 01, 2007 @03:29PM (#21200909) Homepage

    While you can analyse the numbers that come up, the interesting data isn't usually available to you: namely what numbers people are betting on. For example in the UK lottery it is known that about 10,000 people a week bet on 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. So that automatically is a really bad choice because if that combination came up, you would get £prize / 10,000.

    Example: if lots of people bet on (eg.) birthdays, then you'd expect the people to select numbers > 31 less frequently, which means you could try to cover bets with numbers > 31 and have a greater payout. Without the distribution of betting numbers though you can't tell.

    Rich.

    • Re:Missing data (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Red Flayer (890720) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @03:39PM (#21201081) Journal
      A lot of lottos that offer a computer 'quick-pick' are set up so that the quick-pick only chooses numbers not already taken. Of course, someone could namually choose your set of numbers after you buy your ticket, but if you want to maximize your potential earnings, always use the quick-pick (for lottos that obey this rule).
      • That's interesting, thanks.

        I haven't played the UK lottery, ever, so I don't know if they have the "quick pick" feature over here.

        But on the other hand, it means I've won £1/week every week for the past 15 or so years by not playing, with only a miniscule chance that I could have won the big prize!

        Rich.

      • As an aside to your quick-pick scenario, on those rare occasions I play the lottery, I tried an experiment. In the past, I would put the quick-pick as the last one and my manually chosen numbers first.

        I noticed, whether true or not, that when I chose numbers this way, there was a higher chance that numbers I had already chosen would also be chosen by the computer.

        I then changed things around and had the first and last games chosen by the computer while my manually chosen numbers were in the middle. This s
    • by geekoid (135745)
      "So that automatically is a really bad choice because if that combination came up, you would get £prize / 10,000."

      Do you want to think about that some more?

      You are saying that lottery winning / 10,000 is worse then not winning at all.

      No if you want to optimize the amount of many you could win if the numbers come up, then I would bet all my numbers over 31.

      Personally, when I do play I just let the machine pick. I would never use the same numbers because if they happened to win and I didn't bet that wee
    • by BSAtHome (455370)
      We know that the simple 1,2,3,4,5,6 is a bad idea. But, if I'd bet on 6,5,4,3,2,1, would that give me prize*10000?
  • by nweaver (113078) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @03:30PM (#21200929) Homepage
    Any statistical deviation in the balls is going to be microscopic.

    Rather, observe the following. When a progressive jackpot gets large enough, a single winner would have a positive expectation value, but multiple winners have negative value.

    Thus what you need to do is not pick something that is "more likely", you need to pick combinations that normal players would NOT choose, as your odds of winning are the same, but your odds of having to share a win go way down.

    EG, something like 7 8 9 10 11 12 13

    Given the raw stream of what numbers people choose, there are probably lots of such "less likely" patterns you could use.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by snarkh (118018)
      Unfortunately, the jackpot is probably still not large enough, even if you do not have to share it. You lose 30-35% on taxes + the lottery only pays it out over many years (or you can take a much smaller lump sum) which devalues the jackpot at the rate of inflation.

      You would be lucky to take 1/3 of the value of the jackpot even if you are the sole winner. In that case
      the expected payoff is no longer in your favor.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      Any statistical deviation in the balls is going to be microscopic.

      Speak for yourself.
  • Article is slashdotted, so I can't go read it to see how relevant this really is.

    I have known people that have used patterns and formulas to pick lottery numbers weekly and overall come out on top. Now this was with regular state lottery which has a far better chance of being won anyway. Also, it certainly wasn't anything they could live off of, wasn't consistent, and took a few thousand dollars that you could risk losing to get started with and keep spending monthly.

    Overall, though, the guys that I have
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by greg1104 (461138)
      Overall, though, the guys that I have known who have done this sort of stuff have won, though. Not tons, maybe an average of a couple hundred dollars per month at best with the risk of losing thousands

      It sounds like a classic case where someone is staying just ahead of Gambler's Ruin [wikipedia.org]--so far. If you don't properly model what happens when you run out of money, there are any number of gambling systems that seem like they work in the short-term, but in reality don't if you run them long enough. The simplest
  • Anything where you have better chances of being killed driving to get the damn thing than winning isn't worth the money...
    Chance of dying from a car accident: 1 in 18,585
    • Chance of dying from a car accident: 1 in 18,585

      Bad statistical analogy there. You see, 18585 is your chances of dying in an auto accident in your entire life. Multiply this by the number of car trips you take and take the odds on winning any lottery and divide that by the number of times/sets of numbers you play. I'm sure someone can come up with some variations on that.

      But as we both know it's all just a bit crapshoot anyhow... when the Great Cthulhu "calls you home" there is no winning odds for an esc
  • When that particular lottery drawing was in the news I came up with a conjecture about picking lottery numbers that would have a higher probability of winning. I'm not a statistician, but from my limited knowledge of Bayesian statistics [wikipedia.org] I figured I could take the set of all possible picks, then from this list remove "subjectively unlikely" combinations such as all previous winning picks as well as combinations like all straits (1-2-3-4-5), flushes (10-10-10-10-10), and other weird coincidences (all primes,
  • Ummm.... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Otter (3800) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @03:34PM (#21201001) Journal
    1) These guys did an impressive amount of work, but seem to be completely oblivious to proper statistical analysis. It would have been nice to have seen a p-value somewhere in there.

    2) You don't get an edge in the lottery by picking numbers that are more likely to come up; you get it by picking numbers that other players are less likely to choose (e.g. >31), so that you don't have to split your win with as many others.

  • by davidwr (791652) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @03:35PM (#21201015) Homepage Journal
    Let's simulate the history of MegaMillions in a computer, using a hardware random-number-generator that we trust to be completely random with an even distribution.

    Examine the results and look for patterns. Odds are, you will see minor variations from "average." After all, if you flip a coin 1000 times, odds are you won't get exactly 500 heads and 500 tails.

    Next, let's repeat this 100 times. Odds are you will see such patterns in most of the experimental runs, but the patterns will vary from run to run.

    Think of the real-life MegaMillions lottery as a single experimental run.

    How do you counter this?

    You could slice-and-dice the MegaMillions into 100 "experimental runs" each consisting of a random 10% of actual drawings. While the overall trend of this slice-and-dice will reflect the real history of MegaMillions, the results of the individual "experimental runs" should vary enough to convince people that this is just a statistical fluke, or at least it's flukiness can't be ruled out.

    In particular, let's slice MM into 10 time periods with an equal number of drawings. Odds are the most recent time period's statistical anomalies won't match those of earlier times.

    The bottom line:

    There is nothing to suggest the statistical anomaly of the history of MM so far will continue.

  • the tax on people who can't do math.

    Patterns? Oh sure there are patterns... But consider, if you look at the moon, you might see a face there too... there's a definite pattern there! Or if you look at clouds you might see familiar shapes.

    The point of what I'm saying being that the human brain is the ultimate pattern recognition engine, and it's going to see patterns arising even when their really aren't any.

    Any increased likelihood that using such "patterns" to predict the outcome of discrete rand

  • What's the point of doing this kind of analysis if you're not going to calculate the probability that the balls used are unweighted? If you want to admire some random numbers, go and roll some dice - the interesting question is whether or not the pattern analysis can be put to use.
  • College stats course (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rueger (210566) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @03:44PM (#21201141) Homepage
    Of all of the courses I took over the years, my college Statistics course stands out. The teacher was the kind of guy who would spend an evening at his kitchen table flipping pennies just to prove to himself that yes, ultimately they would trend towards a 50/50 distribution. For fun.

    What stuck with me though we a couple of ideas:
    • What happened in the past has no influence over what will happen in the future. You may have flipped seventy-five heads, but the odds of the next penny landing head or tails is still 50/50.
    • The decision whether to make a bet in any game is based on a variety of factors - the size of the bet, the size of the possible prize, and the odds of winning. No one of those three is enough to make a decision, you need to know all three.
    In life, as in games, you have to make decisions based on real odds, not of conjecture or media speculation. Where's the bigger risk? A falling meteor, or getting hit by a city bus? Food poisoning or a terrorist attack?
  • Reduced odds of sharing the win with someone else.

    I win $1 every week!

    The only ticket's I've ever bought were to give out as party favors.
  • by Danny Rathjens (8471) <slashdot2NO@SPAMrathjens.org> on Thursday November 01, 2007 @03:49PM (#21201225)
    Rosencrantz: [flips coin which lands as 'heads'] 78 in a row. A new record, I imagine.
    Guildenstern: Is that what you imagine? A new record?
    Rosencrantz: Well...
    Guildenstern: No questions? Not a flicker of doubt?
    Rosencrantz: I could be wrong.

    ...
    Guildenstern: Consider: One, probability is a factor which operates *within* natural forces. Two, probability is *not* operating as a factor. Three, we are now held within un-, sub- or super-natural forces. Discuss.
    Rosencrantz: What?
  • attached to this story is more meaningful than at first glance, if any of you remember the movie [imdb.com]

    fractals, numerology, obsession, madness, religion, finding patterns in randomness, etc.

    great movie if you haven't seen it
  • The frugal gambler can save big money by buying used lottery tickets. They cost a lot less, and the chances of winning are almost as good!
  • My first question (Score:3, Interesting)

    by artifex2004 (766107) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @04:14PM (#21201741) Journal
    Does this guy know there are multiple ball sets in these big games, that are "randomly" selected before each drawing?

    Looking at statistical weighting of ball frequency in a huge aggregate is fine. But I'm guessing (but not betting) you can't translate it directly into predictions in the short term, because of this random set issue. Now, if you want to make multiple analyses based on the specific historical performance of each set, then you have something more practical. But then you need to buy multiple sets of tickets based on the multiple predictions you get. I don't think his data source will tell him what ball set was used.

    (Early on, when Lotto Texas was new, I used to guess 2 or 3 of the numbers based on simple frequency analysis, in every single drawing. But they kept adding ball sets. And Texas did tell people which ball set they used. After the fact, of course. And then I think they changed the number of balls picked. So I gave up my paper trials.)
  • Lottery and the Mob (Score:5, Interesting)

    by brit74 (831798) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @04:25PM (#21201949)
    Back in the early 20th century, the mob used to run a kind of informal lottery. It was called a "numbers game". There were places (like barbershops) where people could pick a number from 1 to 1000, and if their number came up, they won. The mob typically paid out between 800-to-1 and 600-to-1. This meant that the mob paid out 60-80% (and kept 20-40%) of the money people initially paid. On the other hand, most state lotteries only pay out about 50% of earnings, making them a worse bet than going with the mob.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Numbers_game [wikipedia.org]
    http://marketplace.publicradio.org/features/underground/1114undergroundpm.html [publicradio.org]
  • Sample Size (Score:3, Informative)

    by BlindSpot (512363) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @07:12PM (#21204541)
    They took 1078 combinations and used them to look for patterns in something with over 175 million combinations. It's been a while since I took statistics, but isn't that sample size way way WAY too small?

Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurence of the improbable. - H. L. Mencken

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