CHANCES ARE NOT

The Powerball jackpot has reached \$700 million, and the number 34 is “due”

By Dan Kopf

Lottery players are on high alert. At \$700 million, tonight’s Powerball jackpot is the second largest prize in US lottery history. According to Powerball, the odds of winning the grand prize are 1 in 292 million. You are more likely to die from an asteroid strike.

Given the high stakes, many lottery players are looking for any edge they can find. Unfortunately, there are none. The lottery is a game of pure chance. Beyond buying more tickets or becoming a corrupt lottery security director, there is literally nothing you can do to increase your chances of winning. The only “smart” move a player can make is to choose numbers that others don’t typically pick. On the slim chance that you win, this means you will split the prize with fewer people (hint: pick higher numbers).

The grand prize is won by correctly choosing the five white balls that will be selected out of 69, as well as the one red ball selected out of 26. The balls will be selected at 10:59 pm US Eastern Time. From a search of the internet, you wouldn’t necessarily realize that there are no effective strategies for winning the jackpot. Here are some of the most common spurious “tips” you will find:

1️⃣ Play the numbers that have been picked the most historically. At lottosend.com, they suggest looking at frequency charts to find the numbers that have been picked most commonly in past lotteries, and that you consider playing those. They find that 42 is most common among the white balls and 20 among the red balls. In a sure sign that this is preposterous guidance, they also suggest the exact opposite, posing that you might want to play the least drawn numbers because they are “due.”

2️⃣ Make sure to pick a mix of odd and even numbers. At smartluck.com they tell players to be sure to pick some odd numbers and some even ones. Their reasoning: “All odd numbers or all even numbers are rarely drawn, occurring only 4 percent of the time.” This is meaningless advice. You could make up a rule for any set of numbers and, correctly, claim they are rarely drawn.

3️⃣ Play as part of a group. At lottery-winning.com they encourage players to play as part of a team, or “syndicate” as it is called among lottery players. They argue that by sharing your lottery tickets with others you can “Significantly increase your chances of winning a jackpot prize.” While, of course, it is true that having a share in others’ tickets increases your chances of winning, it does nothing to change the odds.

People, and particularly gamblers, are terrible at dealing with the vagaries of chance. The Nobel prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman and his collaborator Amos Tversky spent decades demonstrating the cognitive biases that lead people to find patterns in what are chance events. We just can’t help ourselves. The world would feel too dizzyingly random if we didn’t try to explain it.

There are no tricks to winning the lottery. The fundamental truth is that even though the number 34 hasn’t been selected in nearly a year, nearly double as long as any other number, it is no more or less likely to be picked tonight than any other number.

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