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mattbrowne's avatar

What are good strategies to increase your chances of winning the lottery?

Asked by mattbrowne (31605points) August 25th, 2009

If people knew more about math, most of them would not play in my opinion. Just a week ago or so, some guy in Italy got a 25,000 euro credit to play the lottery because the Italian jackpot was almost 150 million euros. Now what are the odds of getting the right 6 numbers out of 90?

There’s plenty of bullshit about lotteries on the web and too many people believe in it, because when they were in school they thought math was uncool. Here’s a hilarious example:

“Luck is a major factor in any lottery game. But as a smart player, you know that it’s wise not to leave everything to luck. Various strategies are available for those who are passionate about winning the jackpot prize. If you are playing the Italy 6/90 or Italy Super Enalotto, you can choose from a lot of resources available online to boost your chances of winning (...).

Here are some useful tips that can help you improve your chances of winning the Italy 6/90 lotto. First, try to choose a balanced combination of odd and even numbers. It is very rare that winning numbers consist of all even or all odd numbers. In fact, it happens on only four percent of the time. For best results, you can choose one of the following combinations: three odd and three even numbers (3/3), four odd and two even numbers (4/2), and two odd and four even numbers (2/4). When you use a balanced mix of odd and even numbers, chances are you’ll get the desired results in the Italian lotto drawings.”

A balanced mix? Excuse me?

By the way, the guy lost his 25000 euros. Arrivederci my beloved money! He never liked algebra or calculus or the theory of probabilities.

Do you know good strategies how to increase your chances of winning the lottery?

I only know two for example when picking 6 numbers out of 49 or 90, but I’d be interested in more if they exist. So here are mine:

Second best strategy: Avoid popular combinations, for example related to numbers in birthdays. This doesn’t increase your overall chances, but if you pick the right numbers there will be fewer competitors.

Best strategy: Don’t play and make a safe investment offered by your bank. Let’s say it’s $10 per week. Suppose you get 5% interest long term. After 30 years of ‘not playing’ you win your own personal ‘lottery’ big time. How much? Well, someone will figure it out ;-)

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44 Answers

dpworkin's avatar

Lotteries are a tax on the innumerate.

PerryDolia's avatar

There is no strategy for winning the lottery.

The odds of winning the lottery if you do buy a ticket are essentially the same as the odds of winning the lottery if you don’t buy a ticket.

limeaide's avatar

I agree with your best strategy, “don’t play”. I do think if you want to play buy one ticket max and just every once in awhile. You’re not going to win but for a buck it’s a cheap way to entertain yourself by daydreaming of how you’d spend the winnings. I don’t think a buck a few times a year is that big of a deal, it’s the suckers that buy a ton of tickets thinking they are improving their odds that really lose.

dynamicduo's avatar

Yup, it’s don’t play. It’s (almost) 100% odds of winning if you invest the money versus whatever odds it is for your chosen game. Sure you can make those odds go up by one percent, but it’s just not worth it overall. Lotteries are taxes on the innumerate, indeed.

whitenoise's avatar

If you are playing in a lottery like the Italian one, where your chances are based on luck, you should consider not to choose numbers that many other people will choose. many people use their birthday data and lucky numbers.

leave out 1 through 31, and 1 through 12, because of birthdays.
leave out 7, 8, 88 for lucky numbers.

years of birth, will likely need more research, but stick to the higher ranges above 89, if you can, My feeling is not so many people under thirty will play the lottery. they still have other hopes for life.

In any case, this may not increase your chance of winning. It should actually not influence it. But when you win you will be less likely needing to share. ;-)

whitenoise's avatar

BTW, for all that say it is not making sense to play, because calculating risk and utility.

Consider that you are missing out on an important element. People playing a lottery are doing the same as people taking an insurance.

They spend a small amount that they can easily miss in exchange for a chance to gain wealth that they would otherwise not be able to acquire. (With an insurance it would be to avert a financial catastroph they could otherwise not carry.)

Playing in a lottery is not a logical fallacy.

macca's avatar

I would suggest people not to use lucky dip, and always buy tickets with the same numbers each week to maximise your chances of a prize. I would also say not to pick lower numbers, because lots of people choose birthdays/anniversaries, so there’s less chance you’ll have to share the jackpot if you opt for higher numbers. Also, rumor has it, so many people routinely choose the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 that the amount won would be very small if those numbers did happen to come up.

As for arguing against playing the lottery; well those people who /did/ win are having the last laugh. In the UK, you at least know that part of your pound (28p) is going towards a good cause. I don’t play, but I understand why some people might.

LuckyGuy's avatar

As WOPR in the move WarGames said,. “The only winning move is not to play”.

noelasun's avatar

Just answering the question, no details…
I would answer: the best way to improve your chances of winning the lottery are to buy more tickets. =p

mattbrowne's avatar

@whitenoise – Not sure I’m following you. It’s smart to have certain forms of insurance, health insurance for example. If you get sick, you’re covered. If you don’t get sick, you’re glad to be healthy.

barumonkey's avatar

@macca: Choosing the same numbers every week will have no effect on the probability of winning.

Pretend it’s a lottery with just the numbers 1 and 2. I will have just as much chance of winning each time if I pick them randomly or if I pick 2 every time. It’s still 50/50.

MrItty's avatar

The only way to actually increase your chances of winning a lottery is, as @noelasun said, to buy more tickets (each with distinct sets of numbers).

The best way to play the lottery, however, is to pick your numbers, and write them down somewhere. Do not buy a ticket. The next day, check the lottery results, see that your numbers do not match, and congratulate yourself on winning one dollar.

mattbrowne's avatar

@MrItty – I meant increasing your chances of winning in relation to your ‘investment’. You are probably aware that in a sense there’s also an almost sure-fire strategy to win $100 at the roulette table? If not here it is:

1 – Bet on black.
2 – If you lose, then double your bet, else stop playing.
3 – Goto 1.

Some folks might ask: where’s the catch?

barumonkey's avatar

The catch is that that strategy only works with MASSIVE amounts of starting capital, and assumes that there is no max bet.

LucG's avatar

Good post. We call lotteries “Idiot tax”. Still, I take a chance a few times a year, just for fun.

mattbrowne's avatar

@barumonkey – Right on!

@LucG – That’s a good attitude! Just for fun – like hopping on a roller coaster – but not as a strategy to increase your income. Education will allow you to move ahead, not lotteries.

markyy's avatar

Maybe you could increase your chances to win by choosing to play in a lottery that offers multiple prizes instead of one huge one. The current European lottery offers around a 100million which is just absurd if you ask me.

AstroChuck's avatar

Get something on the Lottery Commissioner and then have him/her rig the outcome.

macca's avatar

@barumoney In theory, you’re correct, it won’t have a difference in probability for any singular draw. In practice, however, turn of fate dictates otherwise when playing over a long time period. I wrote a script that attempts to prove it. I do not accept responsibility for the scientific accuracy and feasibility of my script, however. :P I could be wrong. I find it insightful, though.

whitenoise's avatar


People take insurances to cover costs they cannot cover out of their cash-flow by paying an acceptable amount that they can. Overall, however, on average people pay more to insurance companies than they get back through rewarded claims. That is the way insurance companies make their money.

In general, buying an insurance, one pays a relative small amount to cover a relative small risk of a catastrophic damage. Taking an insurance, one accepts a certain but limited cost in exchange for a small chance on having a financial gain.
A lottery is in essence the same transaction.

give_seek's avatar

Play regularly. There have been several documentaries about lottery winners. One of the commonalities that stands out is that the folks who won had been playing for years. It seemed it was just “their time.” For example: the older gentleman who’d purchased a ticket every Friday for 20+ years. There was also a group of co-workers near where I live who won. They each chipped in $5 every pay day and had been doing so for over 10 years.

These documentaries are full of stories like this. If you don’t play, you can’t possibly win. If you do play and want to increase your chances of winning, this is probably a good way to do it.

AstroChuck's avatar

No matter what series of numbers you pick, be it 1 2 3 4 5 6 or 11 24 29 41 53 56, or whether you’ve been playing for years or if it’s your first time, your odds of winning any single lottery game remain the exact same. And those odds are astronomical.

mattbrowne's avatar

@AstroChuck – Do you have his phone number?

mattbrowne's avatar

@give_seek – The documentaries were created by superstitious people, not scientists. I haven’t played since I was 15 earning my first money (except a few times for fun, knowing the money would be gone). Every week I saved a small amount of money which ended up in saving accounts or more lucrative risk-free investment vehicles. I’m 46 years old. I won big time, far more than 99% of all lottery players including your group of co-workers. The best strategy is not to play, believe me. Look at the sad example of that Italian guy losing more than $30,000.

MrItty's avatar

@macca Can you post the source code somewhere, please?

critter1982's avatar

@mattbrowne: All the assumptions you make have a statistical foundation. Additionally, the assumptions that are made assume that statistically speaking the outcomes to date are balanced. For example the statistical probability for flipping a perfectly balanced coin and hitting heads is 50/50. The first 10 flips could be tails but the probability the next flip is heads or tails is still 50/50. Statistics state that the more you flip the coin the closer you get to hitting that particular ratio. This is the reason when we see 10 flips of the coin hit tails we automatically assume heads is coming up because the ratios are currently uneven and we know the more we flip the more likely we are of hitting that given ratio. The problem is that we don’t typically know where in the process we are. For example we knew the last 10 flips were tails but we have no idea what was flipped before those 10 flips. Additionally, these statistical analyses assume that we have to flip a coin forever to hit the true theoretical ratio. So simply said, I don’t think we can truly improve our chance at hitting the lottery because statistics are just that a theory not a likely outcome. (I think?)

macca's avatar


@critter1982 but the probability of getting that many tails in a row is statistically different than getting alternate heads and tails even though the chance of getting a head or tails is the same for any single coin toss and that’s why the turn of fate theory works in my suggestion. I don’t think it has any real logical foundation but nevertheless comes up trumps when I try to put it into practice.

AstroChuck's avatar

@macca- Not true. The odds of going heads, tails, heads, tails, heads, tails would be the same as going tails, tails, tails, tails, tails, tails.

whitenoise's avatar

@AstroChuck You are right.

Only when the system is not truly random, a certain set may favor your chances. You’d need analysis first though, because just sticking to one set may actually make you end up with one that always looses.

macca's avatar

@AstroChuck Sorry, what I meant was any combination of heads and tails (not alternate as in the set combination HTHTHTHTHT). You’d have to be pretty damn lucky to toss tails so many times in a row (1 / 2^x for x times), when you would expect to have gotten an equal number of heads and tails given the original probability, so if you throw 5 tails in a row you would expect a heads to come up soon because the probability of throwing this many tails in a row was so unlikely in the first place.

AstroChuck's avatar

@macca- Of course randomness is going to be more common than order.

whitenoise's avatar

“so if you throw 5 tails in a row you would expect a heads to come up soon because the probability of throwing this many tails in a row was so unlikely in the first place.”

You are right one would expect heads to come up. That is because people have a memory of what was flipped before. The coin however has no such memory and will not care and will just as easily produce another tail as it would a head. Odds for each flip do not change, based on previous flips.

Had someone thrown 20 heads in a row, he or she would still have 50% chance for heads on the next flip. Actually, If all people on the planet would participate in the game, likely a couple of thousand will flip 20 heads in a row and cannot believe that to be mere coincidence.

MrItty's avatar

@macca your code contained an error. If the random number turned out to be the static number, and that number was chosen, you claimed that the Random won.
corrects this bug.

MrItty's avatar

(The other problem with your code, of course, is that programming languages cannot actually simulate random numbers. That’s why they’re called pseudo-random number generators)

dpworkin's avatar

It’s called temporal conditioning, and it produces pathological gamblers who continue to behave against their own interests, because the casinos carefully calibrate an occasional reward in to the mix.

MrItty's avatar

…. and the far more important bug is that your code allows both the Random and the Winning numbers to contain duplicates. And the way you’re checking for a win is by asking if the current number in your current pick is contained anywhere inside the winning number. If you get yes 6 times, you get a win.

That means if the winning number is (1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1), your program will claim that your Static Numbers won, even though they didn’t. The random numbers are at a disadvantage here, since they could potentially be (2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2), and thus contain no winning numbers, whereas the static numbers you chose will always contain that 1 that let’s them win.

I suggest fixing those bugs and trying it again. See if you get different results.

MrItty's avatar

And as far as the “if five heads, next one more likely to be a tails”, here’s a script to disprove that:

and the code:

MrItty's avatar

@macca And here’s a corrected version of your code, with the bugs removed. This one does not allow duplicates. Rather it is the type of lottery where all the numbers are drawn from the same pool, so that once a number is picked, it can’t be picked again.

With the bugs removed to get rid of false-positives, the script was taking forever to run with 6 numbers, so I made it a lottery with 4 numbers.


macca's avatar

I concede defeat, my code was buggy. Guess the duplicates thing slipped my mind. Bad, bad Macca. Seemed like a good theory, though. For the reasons that @whitenoise stated – you just wouldn’t expect to throw 20 tails in a row, you’d have expected a head to pop up, but that is based on memory, which is why I said that my theory didn’t have any logical foundation, but now I can see that it doesn’t matter. :P

mattbrowne's avatar

@critter1982 – All the assumptions made have a statistical foundation and a foundation in the theory of probabilities. The latter will tell us that the odds of getting all 6 numbers out of 90 right are about 1 in 623 million

See how it’s done*89*88*87*86*85/1*2*3*4*5*6

The first will tell us a) how perfect the lotto machine is and b) people’s preferred numbers e.g. related to birthdays and c) how many bets were made on average in relation to the size of the jackpot. So I agree with you that we can’t truly improve our chance, but I’m curious what might come up during the discussion.

mattbrowne's avatar

What @macca probably meant was what do we get when we throw 6 coins and count the heads and tails. There are several combinations for 3 heads and 3 tails, but only 1 for 6 heads. It’s like throwing 2 dice and count the numbers on the dice.

Noel_S_Leitmotiv's avatar

Change your concept of winning to mean Not losing. Not playing is an effortless way to not lose.

Put what you would spend on the lottery toward a an IRA instead. Much much better odds.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

Great Caesar’s ghost, logically the best course of action is to have your numbers and to stick with them. People will say that your odds on any single draw is not increased by doing so, so you might as well do a quick pick or some other random number, but if you look at it as a numbers game you get closer to the goal. Imagine you drive to work a certain route you never go any other way. At one stop there is a weak dying oak tree. The more times you stop under that tree you place yourself at risk maybe small of it falling on you. If you only took that route once a week or twice a month then your chance of that tree falling on you is hardly worth the thought, if it did hit you it would really be beating the odds. Keeping the same numbers is placing yourself under that tree and those who choose a different number each time take a different route each day to work.

MrItty's avatar

@Hypocrisy_Central your logic and your sense of mathematics are flawed, and your analogy doesn’t hold up. With every passing day, the tree becomes more likely to fall, due to its age, erosion, weather, etc. With every passing day, “your number”‘s odds of being the winning number do not increase even the tiniest amount. The odds of that number coming up are the same as every other number, every day of the year, forever.

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