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Tuesday, December 22, 1998 Published at 17:34 GMT


Supercomputer reveals how to avoid sharing lottery jackpot

Most people choose numbers in the centre of the card

Using a supercomputer and theories from statistical physics, scientists have revealed how to boost your chances of winning a bigger jackpot in the UK National Lottery.

The researchers at Southampton University showed that choosing unpopular numbers significantly reduces the probability of sharing the top prize with others. They stressed there is no scientific way to predict the winning numbers in advance.

Dr Simon Cox explains which numbers are most popular
They analysed how many tickets shared the jackpot each week and then compared that with the winning numbers. If a higher number of winners shared the jackpot, then the numbers they chose must be more popular, the scientists reasoned.

The computer calculations revealed that the most unpopular sets of numbers are only bought once every couple of draws whilst popular tickets have over 50 buyers per draw. If a lottery player did hit the jackpot with the less popular numbers, the value of the prize would often be double the average, at £4 million.

Lucky numbers

Perhaps predictably the number 7 was the most popular, chosen 25% more often than 46, the least popular. But there were surprises. Choosing numbers at the edge of the game card lifts your chance of being a solo winner, as people tend to shy away from these. Also, avoid the sequence 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, Dr Simon Cox told the BBC - 10,000 people a week select this combination.

[ image: There are 13,983,816 possible combinations of the six-numbered lottery tickets]
There are 13,983,816 possible combinations of the six-numbered lottery tickets
Further tips for maximising any win are to avoid numbers below 31, as these are frequently picked to match birthdays. Choosing consecutive numbers is a good ploy, as people tend to spread their lottery numbers out.

The remarkable draw on 14 November 1995 when 133 tickets shared the £16 million jackpot prize is a clear example of the effects the team had deduced.

The winning numbers were 7, 17, 23, 32, 38, 42 and 48, all of which lie in central columns of the ticket, and the players won only £120,000 each. The average number of jackpot winners is five and the average amount won is £2 million.

The information has allowed the team to show that choosing a ticket at random produces a long term winnings of 45 pence in the pound. For a very unpopular combination of numbers such as 26, 34, 44, 46, 47 and 49 the return can be raised to about 95 pence in the pound.

[ image: Dr Cox undertook the research as the numbers people choose is not made public]
Dr Cox undertook the research as the numbers people choose is not made public
Unfortunately, although it is possible to double one's long term winnings this is not enough to make a profit. Also, the figures relate to what is expected to happen after millions of years, when the particular choice of numbers has won the jackpot many times. This is hardly relevant to the ordinary punter, the team admits.

Bigger Winnings But a large syndicate buying 75,000 tickets a week since the lottery started would have actually won £10.3m using the Southampton method compared with £6.9m buying random tickets. However, they would have had to spend £15.3m buying the tickets.

"While the discoveries about the lottery have thrown up some interesting facets of human behaviour, they are not in themselves important," said Dr Cox. "The major significance of this type of work is when it is applied to other situations, such as patterns of illness or investor behaviour."

The team built their own supercomputer, capable of eight billion calculations per second, to conduct the research which is published in the December issue of the Journal of the Royal Statistical Society.

The UK lottery organisers know how often each number is picked but do not reveal this data - now physics theory and supercomputers have.

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