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Are birthday numbers really luckier?

13 October 2000

Dear Mark,
In a past column you stated that you only play the lottery when the jackpot approaches true odds plus playing quick-pick (random) numbers. I can see your first point, but I, like most people, play my family's birthday numbers because of the luck factor. What is wrong with that?

Also, you used the odds of hitting a California 6/51 ticket as an example. Our state lottery has 54 numbers. What are the chances of hitting it? Dale G.

The most popular method used by players for the selection of lottery numbers is calendar dates such as birthdays or anniversaries.

More than 65% of the tickets played in state lotteries have numbers all marked under 31. By eliminating numbers above 31, two problems emerge.

First, there is a much greater chance of sharing the bootie because such a high percentage of people, like yourself, play this way. It is odd, Dale, to have only one winner when all the numbers picked are under 31.

Second, track your state lottery draws and note how often just the numbers 1-31 occur. Fortunately for you, I did the homework by researching every draw of every game ever played in California. Even to my surprise, a ticket limiting the numbers between 1-31 appears, on average, only 3.5 times a year (104 games per year-Wednesday and Saturday draws).

So for the above two reasons, Dale, I subjectively recommend random numbers, in addition to waiting for the lottery to get close to true odds.

For your second question, I list the staggering chance of hitting the Illinois lottery (6 out of 54) below, plus additional state lottery games, indexed in ascending order of difficulty.

6 out of 25 1 chance in 177,100
6 out of 30 1 chance in 593,775
6 out of 33 1 chance in 1,107,568
6 out of 36 1 chance in 1,947,792
6 out of 39 1 chance in 3,262,623
6 out of 40 1 chance in 3,838,380
6 out of 41 1 chance in 4,496,388
6 out of 42 1 chance in 5,245,786
6 out of 44 1 chance in 7,059,052
6 out of 46 1 chance in 9,366,819
6 out of 47 1 chance in 10,737,573
6 out of 48 1 chance in 12,271,512
6 out of 49 1 chance in 13,983,816
6 out of 50 1 chance in 15, 890,700
6 out of 51 1 chance in 18, 009,460
6 out of 54 1 chance in 25,827,165

Powerball (5 out of 45 + 1 out of 45) 1 chance in 55 million.

Dear Mark,
My brother-in-law loves to brag how playing his way is the "statistically" correct approach to gambling. Believe me, he's no math genius and generally loses more than he wins. Any one-liners to shut him up? Susie L.

"Most people use statistics the way a drunk uses a lamp post. More for support than illumination." ­Mark Twain

Dear Mark,
Can you
bet either the presidential elections or the Oscars in Nevada? Cliff D.

Not anymore, Cliff. Though you'll see odds posted by Las Vegas bookmakers in nationwide newspapers, they're more for amusement, not actual wagering. The Nevada Gaming Commission halted those intriguing side wagers years ago after bets like "Who Shot JR" were made by insiders knowing the eventual outcome. That's too bad. Just think of the possibilities a sportsbook operator could offer. Like if Geraldo Rivera mentions on his talk show that he's a former lawyer, bet six to win five. Or that he finished 13th out of 364 in his law school class; here you might get 20 to 1. Then there's Rivera's evening talk show counterpart, Larry King. That he's from Brooklyn and people from Brooklyn are special — even money. Or that he and his guest "go way back." Lay 10 to win five.

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Best of Mark Pilarski
Mark Pilarski

As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.
Mark Pilarski
As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.