Jan. 13, 2015 – Unfortunately for all us would-be millionaires, it’s impossible to know which numbers will come up in any drawing.
Even if there were a “system” that could better the odds, I think everyone would agree that there are just too many possibilities – hundreds of millions of potential combinations – to know with any certainty what the numbers will be.
Still, lottery players everywhere – both casual and committed – wonder each time they line up to buy a ticket: “Should I play a Quick Pick or my lucky numbers?”
The short answer? It probably doesn’t matter all that much. To really improve your odds of matching all six numbers you’d need to buy millions of tickets, and there are rules in place in some states to make this difficult, if not downright impossible, to do.
But there are other reasons to choose a quick pick over lucky numbers, or vice versa. For one, we humans are pretty bad at picking random numbers, it’s just not in our nature.
Tyson explains that while recognizing patterns is a good thing for survival, it’s bad news for our ability to think up random numbers.
That’s why drawings that randomly select lower numbers are often more likely to have one or more jackpot winners – even if we think we’re picking numbers randomly off the top of our heads, we’re more likely to think of numbers with some personal significance attached to them.
I call the lower numbers in drawings “birthday numbers,” and when the winning Powerball or Mega Millions numbers could correspond to days, months and years, it’s likely that more than one person has used some or all of those same numbers, thinking of important dates in their lives.
For example, the largest Mega Millions jackpot of 2014 was a $414 million prize split by winners in Florida and Maryland. Just two of the six winning numbers – 33 and 51 – fell outside of calendar day numbers, and those two are still within the
realm of “birthday numbers,” as both could be an age or birth year.
Does that mean you should stay away from these lower numbers? Not at all. Just remember that the next time you’re picking your Powerball or Mega Millions numbers from special dates in your mental calendar, someone else out there is probably also playing those same numbers.
Now, you may be thinking Quick Pick computers might be better at choosing random numbers for you, but here’s the bad news: they may not be.
Computers follow specific instructions, so telling a computer to “just pick,” well, that doesn’t work.
Instead, computer programmers have to write programs that first choose a starting number, then multiply, add to, divide and subtract from that number to find another. Then that number is put through a similar process and the computer is told to spit out numbers within certain boundaries.
It sounds very random, but programmers call the results “pseudo-random” numbers, because they still depend on a starting point and a formula.
Let me halt conspiracy theorists in their tracks – the lottery is not rigged. There are so many checks in place to ensure it is as random as possible, it would simply take too great an effort to pull the wool over millions of lottery players’ eyes.
Quick Pick tickets can seem very random or very ordered. It’s more than likely that Quick Pick programs use one of several very complex methods of choosing numbers in the most random way possible, but that doesn’t mean they give you an advantage over lucky-number players.
According to Powerball’s (very entertaining) FAQ, about 70-80 percent of jackpot winners played Quick Pick tickets to win their prize. This, I think, points more to the difficulty people have at being random than the likelihood of a computer picking the winning numbers.
Maybe picking numbers based on things other than important dates – the page you’re on in the book you’re reading, numbers from your license plate, days until the next big holiday – can help you break out of those patterns we’re all drawn to as humans.
Or maybe a Quick Pick could save you some time and offer odds just as “good.” The real question I think, rather than “Quick Pick or lucky numbers?” may simply be: “do you feel lucky?”