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Professional Lotto?

15 August 1999

Of all forms of gambling, the lottery, in percentage terms, is the worst. The expectation is generally around 50%. That's worse than blackjack when the dealer deals seconds. The reason people put up with these terrible odds is that the higher the potential payoff, the less people care about the odds. Despite these odds, a whole industry claiming to improve your chances has sprung up around the lottery. Mostly these involve superstitious nonsense, but some involve pseudo-scientific methods, such as wheeling or pattern recognition. Obviously, none of these methods can be used to overturn that huge house edge.

Nevertheless, it is a surprising fact that the lottery can sometimes be a good bet. The reason for this is simple: in weeks in which no one correctly picks the winning numbers, the jackpot is reinvested, which is called a "rollover". This keeps happening till somebody does eventually win the jackpot. Sometimes the return from a rollover jackpot becomes high enough that buying every single conceivable possible combination of lottery tickets may give you a profit.

This was demonstrated with clinical precision by a mysterious group known as the International Lottery Fund of Australia. On March 5,1992 an Australian lottery syndicate comprising 2500 members claimed the $27 million jackpot at the Virginia state lottery. They had bought approximately 5 million of the 7 million possible ticket combinations, working round the clock to cover each combination with modern technology.

This sounds attractive, until you realize the true value of a jackpot is much less attractive when you consider factors such as taxation and other economic elements depending on the country/state you play in.

Further, there is no certainty that you will not have to share the jackpot. There are certain ticket combinations that will never give you a good return on investment because so many people pick them. For example, about 1 in every thousand lottery players picks the numbers 1,2,3,4,5 & 6. One in every thousand does not sound like a lot, but if 20 million people buy a ticket, then that amounts to 20,000 people. It would be no fun at all to share a jackpot with 20,000 people.

Most of us also do not have million-dollar bankrolls or 2500 friends willing to put up the money. But you can follow similar principles to play lotteries intelligently.

Firstly, only play lotteries when the jackpot and smaller prizes exceeds the chances of winning.

Secondly, pick the numbers least likely to be picked by anyone else. A common and erroneous piece of advice handed out by lottery literature is to pick your numbers at random. That is what game theorists call the optimal strategy, i.e., it is the best strategy when you do not know your opponents' (the millions of other lotto players') strategy. But we do know something about the numbers picked by other players. They tend to follow sequences, use birthdays, the ages of their children, etc. It can be seen that picking your numbers purely at random may accidentally result in your picking a very popular combination, even 1,2,3,4,5,6. So, it is better to pick four random numbers above 30, and two below.

Further, it is a good idea to monitor the distribution of previous lottery number frequencies. Lots of players believe numbers run cold or hot and pick the most and least frequently occurring balls. It is a good idea to pick one "hot" and one "cold" number in order to minimize your chances of sharing the jackpot with one of these superstitious individuals.

Finally, be on the lookout for opportunities. The more lotteries you keep an eye on, the more chances you have of finding a favourable rollover situation.

Also be aware of special rules. For example, the British national lottery splits four and five number wins, as well as the jackpot. An average of 2.2 million pounds is set aside for four number prizes each week. Picking four balls correctly in Britain is a 1 in 1000 shot. Generally speaking, there are so many four number winners that the prize for each winner averages out at 65 pounds. But just imagine if you found a combination so unpopular that nobody picked it. You would have 2.2 million, a return on investment of 2000%!

It is also a good idea to join a syndicate, preferably of people who have a good idea of which numbers are the correct ones to pick. This is because there is such huge volatility playing a jackpot that it can only be justified by a huge bankroll.

John May
John May is one of the most feared gamblers in the world. He has developed "advantage play" techniques for many games that are considered unbeatable.

Books by John May:

> More Books By John May

John May
John May is one of the most feared gamblers in the world. He has developed "advantage play" techniques for many games that are considered unbeatable.

Books by John May:

> More Books By John May