If You Want to Win Millions in the Lottery, Stop Playing Your Lucky Numbers

lucky lottery numbers
Ivan Smuk under Creative Commons

The Powerball has reached epic proportions. Since no one won last night, the jackpot has rolled over to an estimated $675 million — the largest in lottery history.

If you want your shot at the prize, you’ll need to purchase a ticket between now and 10:59 pm E.S.T. on Saturday, Jan. 9, when the next set of winning numbers will be drawn. 

Though we generally advise against playing the lottery (invest your money instead!), we have a tip for those of you who are going to buy a ticket…

When the cashier asks if you have specific numbers you’d like to choose, you might be tempted say what you always say: Your birthday. Or your anniversary. Or your “lucky” numbers.

Every number has the same chance of winning — so you might as well pick numbers that mean something to you, right?

As it turns out, no. You should put all sentimentality aside and just let the computer pick.

Why Your Anniversary Won’t Help You Get Rich

Though the numbers don’t affect your probability of winning, they do affect your probability of having to divide your winnings, explains Jo Craven McGinty in The Wall Street Journal.

“Any combination of numbers is equally likely to win, but people tend to choose some numbers and combinations more frequently than others, increasing the likelihood that different people will end up with the same picks,” writes McGinty.

And the more people with the same picks, the more people with whom you have to share your winnings — and the less cash you’ll actually take home.

Though the data is based on a study of the Dutch Lotto, McGinty also shares two examples to illustrate her point:

In 2011, four numbers featured on the TV show “Lost” were picked in the Mega Millions lottery; since these were popular numbers, more than 40,000 winners came forward. Each of them won $150.

Compare that to the Michigan woman who let the computer pick random numbers for her: She was recently the sole winner of a $310.5 million Powerball lottery.

“If the aim is to vie for the maximum payout, the best strategy is to let the lottery’s computer generate a random combination of numbers that is less likely to be duplicated by lots of other players,” writes McGinty.

As special as it may be to use your anniversary and kids’ birthdays every time you play the lottery, wouldn’t it be even more special if you came home with an extra $300 million?

Your Turn: Do you always play the same lotto numbers? Now that you’ve read this, will you change your ways?

Susan Shain, senior writer for The Penny Hoarder, is always seeking adventure on a budget. Visit her blog at susanshain.com, or say hi on Twitter @susan_shain.