The secret to winning lotto

Reported by Allison Tait
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
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On Saturday, January 2, 2010, 18 winners shared the $30 million Saturday Lotto Superdraw division-one prize, scoring $1.6 million each.

The numbers they chose were 5, 12, 34, 33, 42, with supplementary numbers 30 and 32. That's right — 32, 33, 34 , all in the one draw. How did that pattern fit with your usual plan of choosing family birthdays and your house number?

Perhaps the lucky numbers from Saturday, December 19, 2009, might have suited you better — they included 2, 3, 5, 7, 9, 23 and supplementaries 26 and 41. It's hard to imagine marking that many close together, and yet there were 27 winners to share the $4 million division-one prize that Saturday night.

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The truth is, everyone has a different method for choosing lucky lotto numbers. There is only one certainty: that your chances of winning are about one in 2 million with a basic four-game pick. Mind you, they're not bad odds when you consider that with Oz Lotto you're looking at a one in 11 million chance and with Powerball it's one in 14 million.

"That's what you call lucky," says Professor John Croucher of the Macquarie Graduate School of Management, an expert in statistics and author of Number Crunch (Pan Australia, 2006) and The Secret Language (ABC Books). "It's what we call a 'statistical variation' — a boring term for what everyone else calls 'luck'. There's a random element in all gambling and it's not possible to predict who will win."

The Gary Ablett factor

So what is the best way to choose numbers? Some people like to choose numbers that come up all the time. Others go with those that are not so frequent.

Visit the NSW Lotteries website and you'll find a "Number Selector" tool that allows you to track both with the push of one button.

In case you were wondering, John Vineburg from NSW Lotteries offers the following information about Oz Lotto's luckiest and unluckiest numbers: Lucky: 3, 35, 13, 17, 33, 26 and 25. Unlucky: 36, 42, 38, 30, 24, 14 and 10.

Be aware, though, that statistically it makes no difference as to whether your lucky seven comes out every week or once in a blue moon.

"I know that people have theories that some numbers are luckier than others because they come up more frequently, while others say that infrequent numbers are overdue," Croucher says. "Realistically, it doesn't matter. Lotto numbers have no memory. There's no emotion involved and no memory."

In Geelong, they might disagree. According to the Geelong Advertiser , AFL footballer Gary Ablett Jr is proving lucky for many local residents. Ablett, who picked up a premiership and the Brownlow Medal with the Geelong Cats in 2009, plays in guernsey 29 — a number which appeared for three Geelong division one Tattslotto winners in 2009.

The secret to winning

Of course, it may not be which numbers you choose, but where you choose them that makes the difference. Greystanes in NSW topped the list of Australia's top 20 lotto-winning suburbs for 2009, now being home to $9.4 million in new Lotto winnings. But that amount was shared between only two winners. If you're looking for the spot that struck it lucky the most often, you'd need to travel to Perth in WA or Campbelltown in NSW, with four winners each.

So you have to ask, are they winning more often because they're buying more tickets in these places?

"That's not necessarily true," Croucher says. "You could buy one and I could buy 50 and you could still win. Of course, it does increase your chances if you buy more tickets, but it doesn't guarantee a win. Basically, the luckiest suburbs are random, and it all comes back to that statistical variation."

Which means that hightailing it to Greystanes to buy your next ticket won't necessarily improve your chances of a big win.

Whether you use a dartboard, astrology, numerology, special dates, or whim to choose your numbers, play the same numbers religiously for years or change them each week depending on the weather conditions, there's only one way to improve your chances of winning: buy a ticket.

"If you don't buy a ticket, the chances of winning are easy to calculate," Croucher says, who admits to going the autopick option to choose his numbers. "That is, there's no chance of winning at all."

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